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Lazard's Annual Review of Shareholder Activism – 2020

Jan 12 2021

Lazard's annual review of shareholder activism compiles and analyzes data on key activism trends globally.

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Key observations from the 2020 report include: 

Global Campaign Activity and Capital Deployed

  • Global activity saw a strong snap back in Q4, with 57 new campaigns launched (up 128% from Q3 level)
  • As a result, 2020’s final global campaign tally (182 new campaigns launched) was down only 13% from 2019
  • The Q4 rebound was most pronounced in the U.S., where 30 new campaigns represented a 200% increase from Q3 levels
  • Non-U.S. activity saw an uptick for the year, with European and APAC campaign levels up 21% and 11%, respectively, over 2019 levels
  • With two-thirds of U.S. nomination windows opening from December 2020 through February 2021 and strong momentum in Europe and APAC, 2021 is poised for heavy campaign activity

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A New European Activism Landscape

  • Europe’s 21% Y-o-Y increase in campaign activity owed largely to the year beginning and ending at a blistering pace, with industrial companies and small to mid-cap players sharply in the crosshairs, resulting in Europe witnessing in 2020 a record year for activism
  • The activism landscape is broadening across large European markets and the “face of the agitator” is diversifying
  • Institutional and occasional activists now account for roughly half of all campaigns
  • Frustrated shareholders are increasingly attacking management and Boards as they seek to control the strategy and direction of targeted companies

Board Seats and M&A Still in Focus

  • 131 Board seats were won by activists in 2020, in line with the multi-year average
  • Consistent with past years, the majority of Board seats were secured via negotiated settlements (~82% of Board seats)
  • The relative stability in Board seats won in 2020, in spite of fewer campaigns launched, owes to the fact that many campaigns launched prior to 2020 gave rise to Board seats in 2020
  • As in prior years, M&A was the most common objective, featuring in 41% of campaigns (consistent with multi-year averages)
  • This consistency with prior year levels was reached thanks to M&A accounting for ~47% of Q4 campaigns, up from only ~34% in Q1 and Q2

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