Activist investors are likely to increasingly target companies in France and Germany, with family control set to be less of a deterrent to shareholders who want to shake up businesses on the continent, according to consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal Inc.
Out of the 150 companies that are most likely to be targeted in Europe within the next 18 months, 23 are German and 20 are French, the firm found in its twice-annual A&M Activist Alert report, up from 17 in each country previously. The U.K. is still the most attractive European market for activists, though its projected share of targeted companies is falling, Alvarez & Marsal said.
“Activists have started to make serious inroads into Continental Europe, and we see this trend accelerating,” Malcolm McKenzie, a managing director at Alvarez & Marsal in London, said in a statement. “While no sector is immune, conglomerates will find themselves on notice, as calls for breakups remain a key activist tactic.”
Alvarez & Marsal looks twice a year at more than 1,000 European companies with a market value of $200 million or more to rank them by how likely they are to face an activist campaign, based on their relative performance against peers in areas such as profitability and governance.
For the firm, which among other things offers restructuring and turnaround advice, it’s a way to drum up business: Alvarez & Marsal doesn’t disclose the scores of individual companies, or which ones are on the red or amber lists of those most at risk of activism, but rather encourages companies to contact the firm to find out.
Europe is home to many family controlled companies that have capital structures allowing certain shareholders to get more votes than others. One such example is Pernod Ricard SA, where the Ricard family is its largest shareholder with about a 16 percent stake and 22 percent of voting rights.
Paul Singer’s Elliott Management Corp. disclosed a stake in Pernod Ricard in December, calling for 500 million euros ($566 million) of cost cuts at the Paris-based distiller. The family’s large stake in the company made it an unlikely target for an activist, according to Alvarez & Marsal.
“This case suggests that the existence of major voting blocs is likely to be less of a deterrent in future -- especially if Elliott’s intervention is seen to produce a positive outcome for all shareholders,” the firm said in its report. “This case may therefore signal an important trend across Continental Europe, where founding families continue to hold significant interests in many companies.”
Activists seeking to target French businesses might have more to contend with than just the founding families: State-owned investment firm Bpifrance SA has almost 2 billion euros in cash that could be invested in French firms to counter activist investors, Chief Executive Officer Nicolas Dufourcq said last month.
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