Investments  

Fund managers rebel against Unilever’s plan to exit FTSE 100

Fund managers rebel against Unilever’s plan to exit FTSE 100

Nick Train is among the UK fund managers planning to vote down Unilever’s plan to exit the London Stock Exchange.

The fund manager will be joined by David Cumming, chief investment officer at Aviva Investors, in rebelling against the move.

Unilever is listed on both the London and Dutch stock exchanges, but the company intends to shift its official headquarters to Holland which will see it exit the FTSE 100.

The company said this is not as a result of the UK leaving the European Union, but rather to make the company structure simpler. In addition, the Dutch government recently announced tax changes designed to encourage companies to locate corporate headquarters in the country.

The change will mean funds that invest in UK equities and are in the IA UK All Companies or Equity Income sectors, such as the £5.8bn Lindsell Train UK Equity fund and various funds managed by Aviva, would be forced to sell the shares.

Mr Cumming said: "We will be voting against Unilever’s proposal to relinquish its UK domicile in favour of Rotterdam. Unilever’s decision appears to be a defensive response to recent governance challenges and consequently will not create any value for shareholders.

"Furthermore, a material number of long-standing supportive UK shareholders will become forced sellers due to the resultant removal of this high-quality company from the FT All Share and FTSE 100 indices."

Mr Train told our sister title the Financial Times he would vote against the proposal as it would make the funds he manages "forced sellers at a time and a price not of our choosing".

Funds managed by Aviva Investors account for 1.4 per cent of the total of Unilever’s UK shares, while Lindsell Train is the third largest holder of the company's stock, with 2.5 per cent of the total.

BlackRock is the largest single institutional holder of Unilever stock, with 2.8 per cent of the total, but declined to comment.

For Unilever to be allowed to move, it must secure 75 per cent of the shareholder votes in the UK.

Funds in the IA UK All Companes and Equity Income sectors must have 80 per cent of the capital in UK listed shares. Unilever being re-classifed as an overseas holding in those funds may push them over the limit.

UK tracker funds would also have to sell the shares as the role of those funds is to passively buy the shares of an index, if Unilever ceases to be part of the index, then those funds have to sell the shares.

david.thorpe@ft.com