Hunting returns

Activist investors go mainstream in Europe

Keith Meister, Managing Partner and Chief Investment Officer of Corvex Management, speaks during the Sohn Investment Conference in New York City
White Tale, bald head: hedge fund manager Keith Meister. Source: Reuters

The chemistry is not quite right these days between Swiss chemicals company Clariant and one of its key shareholders. Last month, the American activist investor group White Tale thwarted a planned $20-billion (€16.7 billion) merger between the Basel-based multinational and its US rival Huntsman Corporation.

Now White Tale, which holds 20 percent of Clariant, is demanding three seats on the board and an independent strategic review. Last week, Clariant’s management, fearing the firm could be broken up, told the investor group to take a hike. White Tale, which includes hedge fund manager Keith Meister and New York City-based investor 40 North, has hit back with threats of an emergency shareholder meeting.

The quarrel exemplifies how US activist investment practices are increasingly the norm in Europe. Across the continent, activist investors are hunting for targets. According to the information service Activist Insight, in 2009 there were just six activist campaigns targeting European companies valued at more than €1 billion; in 2016, there were 40, including high-profile moves on German firms including online bank Comdirect, industrial group Schaltbau Holding, pharmaceuticals firm Stada and machine maker Gea. All the signs point to a further increase this year.

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