Record number of activist members against boards in 2023, but little success

MILAN – 2023 will be remembered as the year of soaring rates and activist fund campaigns. Second Lazard, last year up to 252 listed companies were targeted by investors (7% more than in 2022) who exerted their pressure for change governing, adapt to standards, simplify the circuit or simply create greater efficiency. “Activist funds today have a very local dynamic,” he explains Rich Thomas, Managing Director Capital Markets Advisory Division Lazard to Financial Times – Global campaigns are to all-time highs as Asia and Europe had an exceptional year“.

Activism in Piazza Affari had no effect

In Italy, the funds showed up Enel, on Telecom Italia and on Rai wayin the first two cases with clumsy attempts – to oppose the list of the MEF on the restoration of the top management of the electric power group (up to Covalis), and to the change of the top management of the telephone company headed by Pietro Labriola (Merlyn’s advisor). However, in the case of Rai Way, for years some funds including Amber Capital, Artemis, Kairos (but also long-term partners such as Azimut and Mediolanum) have urged the government to push through a merger with rival Ei Towers, an operation also recently supported by Mef but not yet implemented.

According to Lazard, there will be 69 campaigns in Europe in 2023 of this type, while in Asia – with a focus on Japan – another 44. But as always the lion’s share goes to the United States, with fund attacks on Walt Disney against the return of historical advertising Bob Iger by Trian Partner, on Starbucks for the appointment by trade unions of the Strategic Organization Center, to modify some managerial choices of the group and so on Salesforce where ValueAct, Elliott and Third Point made their presence felt. Elliott (who managed to appoint most of Tim’s board in 2019) while Third point (which in 2017 on Unicredit and in 2019 unsuccessfully on EssilorLuxottica), has also launched attacks on the management of Italian companies in the past.

Many battles but few victories

According to Lazard, more than 40% of activists who launched campaigns last year were doing so for the first time, so the list of unhappy investors companies have to deal with is growing. “Europe in particular has seen a significant increase in the number of early activists – Thomas always reminds us ofFt – Barriers have fallen and frustrated shareholders are now launching further campaigns. We are seeing this activist landscape diversify and expand, increasing the scope of action.”

however according to Lazard, only 37% of launched campaigns ended with wins a seat on the board administration compared to 44% in 2022, therefore quickly turned into a soap bubble. Who knows if next spring’s meeting season will see hedge funds and activists return to the stakes of Italian companies to be heard.

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