June 3, 2020 / 8:04 PM / 2 months ago

Corporate activists flex muscles again with more campaigns in May: Lazard data

BOSTON (Reuters) - Corporate agitators who had tread lightly as the deadly coronavirus spread in March and April stepped up the pressure on global corporations by launching 16 new campaigns in May, including five in Japan, data from Lazard Ltd (LAZ.N) show.

The campaigns in May are double the number in April and bring the total to 83 in the first five months of 2020. But the pace is off monthly averages seen before the novel coronavirus outbreak, the investment bank which tracks the data said on Wednesday. The data will be released later in the day.

Activists are putting “money to work to take advantage of attractive valuations while they last,” said Jim Rossman, who heads shareholder advisory at Lazard. Near term, he said activity will remain subdued but there could be a “strong resurgence in activism in the second half of the year.”

Investors like Elliott Management and Oasis Management took on companies ranging from CenterPoint Energy to Mitsubishi Logistics, illustrating fresh trends in finding partners for campaigns, and targeted Japanese companies long thought to be off limits.

Elliott teamed up with mutual funds Fidelity, MFS and Capital Group to back energy delivery company CenterPoint Energy with $1.4 billion, while Oasis called for share buybacks and the election of new board members at Japan’s Mitsubishi Logistics last month.

In April, Lazard said activist investors would likely scale back campaigns as target companies brace for a deep recession.

But as markets recovered from dramatic virus-sparked sell-offs — the benchmark U.S. Standard & Poor’s 500 average is now down 6% after sinking roughly 30% earlier in the year — the landscape has improved for corporate agitators.

Starboard Value last month won eight board seats at GCP Applied Technologies and leads other hedge funds in winning seats this year with a total of 14.

Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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