Review of Shareholder Activism – H1 2021

Reports and studies — Financial Advisory, Shareholder Activism, Shareholder Advisory

July 14, 2021


Key observations from the first-half 2021 report include:

U.S. Activity Leads Global Market in H1 2021

  • 94 new campaigns were initiated globally in H1 2021, in line with H1 2020 levels

        - Year-over-year stability buoyed by a strong Q1, with Q2’s new campaigns launched (39) and capital deployed ($9.1bn) below multi-year averages

  • H1 was distinguished by several high-profile activist successes at global mega-cap companies, including ExxonMobil (Engine No.1), Danone (Bluebell and Artisan Partners) and Toshiba (Effissimo, Farallon, et al.)
  • U.S. share of H1 global activity (59% of all campaigns) remains elevated relative to 2020 levels (44% of all campaigns) and in line with historical levels

        - The 55 U.S. campaigns initiated in H1 2021 represent a 31% increase over the prior-year period

  • After only initiating one new campaign in Q1 2021, Elliott launched five campaigns in Q2 2021 and returned to being the period’s most prolific activist
  • H1 2021 activity in Europe slowed following a record-setting end to 2020; the region’s 21 new campaigns included Elliott’s agitation at GlaxoSmithKline and Bluebell’s campaigns at Danone and Vivendi
  • 10 campaigns were launched at Japanese targets in H1, and the share of non-U.S. activity represented by Japanese targets (26%) reached the highest level in recent years

        - The activist success at Toshiba is viewed as a watershed moment in Japanese activism that may catalyze further scrutiny of Japan’s corporate governance system

Successful Attack on ExxonMobil Dominates Proxy Season

  • Engine No. 1’s proxy fight at ExxonMobil – which saw the Company replace two incumbents in the lead-up to the AGM and an additional three seats won in the final vote – made Exxon the largest issuer ever to lose a proxy fight

        - Engine No. 1’s campaign – which coupled “traditional” criticisms of performance and strategy with ESG attack vectors – was also noteworthy due to the wide margin of victory           and broad shareholder support across the “Big 3” U.S. passive managers, pensions funds and active managers

  • The ousting of Toshiba’s Chairman and one other Director at its 2021 AGM that followed an investigation into allegations of collusion to influence shareholder votes further showcased investors taking a more active stance to hold leaders accountable for perceived governance failures
  • A number of highly contentious proxy fights remain unresolved heading into H2 2021, including Starboard’s ongoing agitation at Box for three Board seats and open criticism of KKR’s recent “white squire” investment. 

M&A-Related Activism Persists, with Opposition to Deals on the Rise

  • 44% of all activist campaigns in H1 2021 featured an M&A-related thesis, in line with the multi-year average of 40%

       - Among all global M&A-focused campaigns in H1 2021, 56% centered on scuttling or sweetening an announced transaction; among European M&A- focused campaigns, this                    figure was 100%

  • Prominent examples of scuttle/sweeten campaigns included Canadian National (TCI) and Hilton Grand Vacations (Land & Buildings)
  • By contrast, campaigns pushing for an outright sale of the company occurred relatively less frequently, accounting for only 12% of M&A-related campaigns in H1 2021, below the multi-year average of 34%

ESG Remains in the Spotlight

  • Investor support for E&S-related shareholder proposals reached new highs: 14% of all proposals passed in H1 2021, up from a three-year average of ~6%, as proposals at companies such as Chevron and DuPont secured broad-based backing
  • ESG equity inflows moderated in April and May (average monthly inflows of $2.2bn versus $3.7bn in Q1) but remain on pace to surpass 2020’s record
  • Environmental issues dominated the regulatory conversation as the SEC aims to propose rules on mandatory climate disclosures as early as October. 

Significant Dry Powder for SPAC M&A

  • Record-breaking SPAC activity continued into H1 2021, with 163 SPACs completing deals and $129bn of dry powder still searching for targets
  • Short activism targeting de-SPACed companies has emerged as an increased threat in H1 2021, with prominent short sellers, such as Hindenburg Research, attacking high-profile de-SPACs such as DraftKings, Lordstown Motors and Clover Health.

Download the review to read the findings in full.