August 12, 2022

Shareholder Activism: 2021 Campaigns & Settlements

Gibson Dunn recently published its 2021 Activism Update, which has all sorts of information on 2021 activist campaigns and settlement terms.  This excerpt from the report’s introduction addresses the rationales put forward for activist campaigns and common settlement terms:

Notwithstanding the increase in activism levels, the rationales for activist campaigns during 2021 were generally consistent with those undertaken in 2020. Over both periods, board composition and business strategy represented leading rationales animating shareholder activism campaigns, representing 58% of rationales in 2021 and 51% of rationales in 2020. M&A (which includes advocacy for or against spin-offs, acquisitions and sales) remained important as well; the frequency with which M&A animated activist campaigns was 19% in both 2021 and 2020. At the opposite end of the spectrum, management changes, return of capital and control remained the most infrequently cited rationales for activist campaigns, as was also the case in 2020. (Note that the above-referenced percentages total over 100%, as certain activist campaigns had multiple rationales.)

Seventeen settlement agreements pertaining to shareholder activism activity were filed during 2021, which is consistent with pre-pandemic levels of similar activity (22 agreements filed in 2019 and 30 agreements filed in 2018, as compared to eight agreements filed in 2020). Those settlement agreements that were filed had many of the same features noted in prior reviews, including voting agreements and standstill periods as well as non-disparagement covenants and minimum- and/or maximum-share ownership covenants. Expense reimbursement provisions were included in half of those agreements reviewed, which is consistent with historical trends.

The report summarizes information on each of the 76 public activist campaigns conducted in 2021, together with the trends and key terms of the settlement agreements entered into during the year.

John Jenkins