February 24, 2016

The Rise of the Reluctant Activist

Here’s the intro from this WSJ article:

Investor Jeffrey Osher sat on his holdings in prepaid-debit-card issuer Green Dot Corp. for three years before he lost his patience. In December, after a string of disappointing earnings reports that left the company’s shares down sharply, the hedge-fund manager met with the board and asked directors to fire founder and Chief Executive Steven Streit, according to people familiar with the meeting. When the board refused, Mr. Osher’s Harvest Capital Strategies LLC did something it had never done before: It publicly threatened to run a campaign to oust the company’s directors. Those moves put Mr. Osher into a newly emerging class of shareholders: Typically passive investors who are adopting, sometimes reluctantly, the tactics of activists.

The rise of these “reluctavists” or “suggestivists,” as they are sometimes called, reflects the success of vocal shareholders in forcing corporate change, as well as broader shifts in the investing world. Changes in securities laws and an expansion of investor rights have encouraged shareholders who once deferred to management to speak up when they are unhappy.

First-time activists ran 49 campaigns against U.S. companies last year, up from 36 in 2014 and 15 in 2011, according to Activist Insight. Some 54% of all campaigns were launched by what the researcher deems “occasional” activists, up from 30% in 2011.