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Interventionnisme des investisseurs activistes VS défenseurs de l’autorité des C.A. | Un débat de fond

8 août 2013

Il y a deux grands courants de pensée qui divisent le monde de la gouvernance et qui s’opposent « royalement ».

(1) celui des investisseurs activistes qui tentent de tirer profit des failles perçues dans les orientations et la gestion des grandes entreprises cotées, en investissant massivement dans celles-ci et en proposant des changements radicaux de stratégies (fusion, restructuration, recapitalisation, contestation des PCD et des membres de conseils, etc…).

Selon ce groupe, les actionnaires sont rois et on se doit d’intervenir lorsque les entreprises ne sont pas gérées efficacement.

(2) celui des défenseurs de l’autorité des C.A. dans leurs rôles de fiduciaires, représentant les intérêts des actionnaires et des autres parties prenantes.

Selon ce groupe, ce sont les conseils d’administration qui prennent les décisions de nature stratégique en fonction de l’intérêt à long terme des entreprises. Les autorités règlementaires doivent donc intervenir pour restreindre les activités des investissements « court-termistes ».

L’article de Nathan Vardi, publié dans Forbes le 6 août 2013, fait le point sur la situation qui règne dans le monde des investissements à caractère « actif » (hedge funds). Il présente, selon moi, singulièrement bien les arguments invoqués par chaque partie.

Quel est votre position en regard de ces deux conceptions : celui des actionnaires activistes, représenté par Carl Icahn, ou celui des gardiens de la bonne gouvernance, représenté par Martin Lipton ?

Voici quelques extraits de l’article. Veuillez lire l’article de M. Vardi pour plus de détails. Bonne lecture.

The Golden Age Of Activist Investing

Once disparaged as greenmailers and corporate raiders who pillage for quick profit, activist investors have become rock stars and rebranded themselves as advocates of all shareholders, taking on the kind of shareholder watchdog role that institutional investors like big pension funds and mutual funds have long resisted. They are not done rebranding themselves. Peltz, whose Trian Management oversees $6.5 billion, describes his investment style not as activism but as constructivism.” Larry Robbins, who runs $6 billion hedge fund firm Glenview Capital Management, one of the best-performing hedge funds over the last 18 months, wants to be seen as a “suggestivist.” The idea is to appear less threatening while trying to do things like replace the management and board of directors of a company, like Robbins is trying to do at hospital company Health Management Associates. “In Hollywood terms, we are more Mr. Spock than William Wallace,” Robbins recently said. “I get a lot more out of these CEOs by not embarrassing them publicly, by not being viewed as trying to nail their scalp to the wall,” Barry Rosenstein, the prominent activist investor who runs $5 billion Jana Partners, told The Wall Street Journal.

Icahn Lab Conference Room

Icahn Lab Conference Room (Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik)

Others, however, have a different way of describing what these guys are up to. “In what can only be considered a form of extortion, activist hedge funds are preying on American corporations to create short-term increases in the market price of their stock at the expense of long-term value,” famed lawyer Martin Lipton wrote earlier this year. “The consequences of radical stockholder-centric governance and short-termism prompt a series of questions that cry out for re-examination.” Lipton, the most prominent defender of corporate boards in their battles with activist investors and the inventor of the so-called poison pill defense tactic, even suggests that the new wave of activist investors might be responsible for “a very significant part of American unemployment and a failure to achieve a GDP growth rate sufficient to pay for reasonable entitlements.”

Lipton has been blasting activist investors for decades. But last week activist investing went Hollywood as George Clooney attacked Dan Loeb, who has been criticizing the management of Sony Pictures Entertainment as part of his effort to get Sony to spin off its U.S. entertainment assets. “[Loeb] calls himself an activist investor, and I would call him a carpet bagger,” Clooney told Deadline.com. “What he’s doing is scaring studios and pushing them to make decisions from a place of fear. Why is he buying stock like crazy if he’s so down on things? He’s trying to manipulate the market.” Clooney said activist hedge fund managers like Loeb don’t create jobs, unlike the movie industry that is a significant U.S. exporter…

Nevertheless, activist-investor efforts to drive shareholder value at companies seem to be all over the financial markets.  The renaissance is best typified by billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who is going stronger than ever. With more money at his disposal than ever before, Icahn, now 77, has been a huge player in financial markets in recent months. He has vigorously taken on Michael Dell’s effort to take Dell private, played a role in kicking Aubrey McClendon out of Chesapeake Energy, and is at the center of the billionaire brawl over Herbalife. He has enjoyed rich recent successes from companies ranging from CVR Energy to Netflix. His Icahn Enterprises has seen its stock rise by 57% this year. Icahn hasn’t changed his tune in years and recently argued that “what I do is good for America.”

Activist players are continuing to push the envelope and bringing their brand of investing to new industry and geographic frontiers. Dan Loeb, whose Third Point hedge fund has been one of the best-performing hedge funds over the last 18 months or so, stormed Silicon Valley, sparking sweeping changes to the flailing Internet giant Yahoo’s management and making about $1 billion in realized and paper profits. Now, he’s off to Japan, trying to shake things up at Sony in a country that has long resisted reform at many levels. Loeb is not the only brash American to attack a foreign company and sometimes these guys even manage to win broad support for their efforts in foreign countries. Not long ago, William Ackman struck at Canadian Pacific Railway and his intervention has helped spark a huge run-up in the stock. The business magazine of Canada’s authoritative Globe and Mail newspaper didn’t call him a carpet bagger, rather they branded Ackman, who is not a corporate executive, “CEO of The Year.”

The Golden Age Of Activist Investing (forbes.com)

Hedge Fund News: Daniel Loeb, Dell Inc. (DELL), Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE:HLF) (insidermonkey.com)

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