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Number of UK corporate raids plunges as dominant Elliott pulls back

Michael Bow
REUTERS

Corporate raiders laid siege to fewer UK company boardrooms last year as the number of activist campaigns fell dramatically, new research shows.

Sixteen activist campaigns were started against UK-listed companies in 2019, with $3.1 billion (£2.4 billion) spent taking positions on share registers, figures from investment bank Lazard reveal. That was down from 26 campaigns worth $7.5 billion in 2018.

The drop is underpinned by a pullback in new UK campaigns from the leading global activist, Elliott Advisors, which appeared to be focusing on campaigns begun the previous year.

Elliott, founded by Paul Singer (pictured), launched just two new campaigns in the UK last year, against CNH Industrial and insurer Saga, versus an astonishing nine in 2018. It remains the top activist by number of campaigns globally, with 14 last year.

Starboard, a relative unknown in the UK, was in second place with 13 campaigns.

Big UK activist campaigns last year included the tilt by Trian, headed by Nelson Peltz, against FTSE 100 firm Ferguson; Cat Rock Capital’s assault on Just Eat; and a stake built by Coltrane in Sports Direct.

UK activism also became more fragmented, with 15 agitators responsible for the 16 campaigns. Last year's efforts by Elliott made raids more concentrated, with 18 activists responsible for 26 campaigns.

Rich Thomas, head of Lazard's European shareholder advisory practice, said: “2019 has shown that activism continues to be used as a tool by an ever broader range of investors who increasingly see M&A as a primary campaign objective.“