Activist Investing in Europe 2023, produced by Activistmonitor and Mergermarket in collaboration with Skadden, is the first report of its kind published in 2023, giving an in-depth overview of the key trends and challenges UK and European corporates are facing in the year ahead.
In this year’s research, that warning resonates louder than ever. Shareholders across Europe endured a difficult period in 2022, with stock markets under pressure as investors digested the implications of higher inflation and a return to tighter monetary policy. Investors are anxious amid these disappointing returns, creating a fertile breeding ground for activist shareholders pushing for change.
Against this backdrop, the post-pandemic rebound in shareholder activism charted in last year’s research has continued. This is a theme playing out in other parts of the world, too, including North America and Asia, but European corporates are facing real scrutiny – and more will come during the course of 2023.
Investors are not afraid to be publicly critical of the businesses in which they hold shares – and may often find common ground with other shareholders, including existing ones. The rise of ESG issues is one key part of that story. The move towards sustainability and improved ESG performance can bring companies and their shareholders together and generate value in the long run. But it also increases the possibility of disagreement and disillusionment in the short term, particularly when some businesses already find themselves in dire straits financially.
The bottom line is that activist shareholders will continue to make themselves heard, frequently at a volume that is disproportionate to the size of their stakes in companies. Europe’s corporates must be ready.
Our key findings include:
- Over the last 12 months, 86% of corporates say they have identified new weaknesses that could be raised by activists. Of those, 69% have already broached such weaknesses in discussions with shareholders.
- 71% of corporates anticipate an increase in shareholder activism over the next 12 months, including 48% who expect a significant increase. Only 3% expect a moderate decrease.
- Almost three-quarters of respondents (74%) agree that companies should be very concerned about being targeted by UK activists, and the remaining 26% are at least somewhat concerned.
- Asked to rank what they expect to be the most prevalent activist demands, those relating to changes to the members of the board/management garner the largest share of primary votes (28%) among our respondents. The next most popular answers are governance structure changes (18%), environmental changes (14%) and anti-ESG demands (10%).
- 96% of respondents agree that ‘activists will increasingly prioritise ESG issues in their campaign demands’, and 90% expect the impact of ESG disclosure requirements on activists’ demands to increase over the next 12 months.
- Respondents collectively believe the single most effective defensive tactic that a company should adopt when facing a public campaign is communicating with the activist, which garners 22% of most-important votes.
- 29% of corporates believe the evolution of the legal framework around public campaigns should focus on disclosing the identity of the activists and certain information on ultimate beneficiaries. Meanwhile, 33% of activists emphasise the need to create a shareholder dialogue platform within each company.
In Q4 2022, Activistmonitor surveyed 35 corporate executives from listed companies and 15 activist investors from the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland in order to gain insights into key trends in Europe’s activist investing space. All responses are anonymous, and the results are presented in aggregate. All Activistmonitor figures referenced are correct as of 12 December 2022.To download please sign in.