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Angry activist investors branded good for shareholders

Angry activist investors branded good for shareholders

Activist investors who aggressively force change at companies are good for shareholders, according to fund experts, after claims from Hermes' chief executive Saker Nusseibeh that they can ruin longer term shareholder value in pursuit of short term gain.

Mr Nusseibeh, speaking on the BBC's Today programme this morning (17 August), described activist investors as "bad for shareholders".

Their strategy is "the ultimate in short termism achieved through activism", he said.

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He was speaking after US activist hedge fund Elliott Advisers reached an agreement wih AkzoNobel over a takeover approach from rival PPG, and in a separate move upped its pressure on mining giant BHP.

But other fund watchers disagreed with the Hermes chief.

Responsible investment group ShareAction stated when activist investors  "engage with companies on long-term issues like climate change and workforce issues, it can only be a good thing for financial returns, and for the world we want to retire into". 

Toby Belsom, head of investor research and analytics at the group, said that there are "a number of scenarios where executive teams need some external incentive to change strategic direction" .

"Where these shareholders are clear about their aims and objectives, are involved in a two way dialogue and also respect minority rights then we welcome this approach.

"We are particularly interested and hopeful to see the emergence activist investors with a climate change agenda – for example encouraging integrated oil businesses to consider different climate scenarios and capital allocation decisions”

Adrian Lowcock, investment director at Architas, also welcomed investor activism.

He pointed to data from the US showing that activist investors can improve longterm value.

"Harvard’s Lucian Bebchuk and two colleagues did analyse 2,000 incidents of activist investing.

"In the five years that followed there was marked improvement of share price performance, compared to the three years beforehand, even taking into account any rally after news broke of the activists involvement," he said.

Mr Locwcock said company managements tend not to like activists and accuse them of wasting managements time and distracting them from their day job.

"It is also seen a bit of criticism of the established management to have an external shareholder tell you what to do.

"It is important to remember that the shareholders of the business are the owners and management need to listen to the owners when expressing their opinions," he said.

Darius McDermot, managing director at fund research provider and seller Chelsea Financial Services, said activist investors like Elliott had become more visible in recent years.

"They can help investors to get longterm value and that can only be a good thing for my customers," he said.

"On the other hand in some cases management can have a perfectly good strategy and the activist investor might result in them taking their eyes off the ball."

Elliott Investors announced earlier this week that it will put legal actions against Dutch paintmaker Akzo Nobel on hold.

It is the company's largest paintmaker and the two have been at odds since Akzo rejected advances for a 26 billion euro (£25m) takeover by U.S. rival PPG Industries.