Activist hedge funds launched 89 campaigns in 2021. Here’s how they fared

Jeffrey Smith, chief govt officer and chief funding officer at Starboard Worth LP.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Photos

2021 was a busy yr for activist funds, with notable traders together with Starboard Worth, JANA Companions and Carl Icahn pushing for significant change at an array of firms.

In all, activist shareholders launched into 89 campaigns final yr in a variety of sectors, together with info know-how and shopper discretionary. These traders additionally used completely different strategies to enhance outcomes for shareholders, together with waging campaigns regardless of proudly owning lower than 5% of an organization’s frequent inventory. This is named “below the brink” activism.

This is a look at how 2021 formed up for activist funds.

Annual Shareholder Activism

Whole Activism 2021 2020
Variety of Campaigns 89 89
Common Market Cap $12.3 billion $21.0 billion
$ invested in New Filings $20.9 billion $18.7 billion

13D Activism in 2021 and 2020

Yr 2021 2020
Variety of Campaigns 41 48
Common Market Cap $4.8 billion $2.9 billion
$ invested in New Filings $10.5 billion $10.5 billion
Common % Possession 7.87% 9.02%

Non 13-D Activism (or Underneath the Threshold Activism)

Yr 2021 2020
Variety of Campaigns 48 41
Common Market Cap $18.9 billion $42.2 billion
$ invested in New Filings $10.4 billion $8.2 billion
Common % Possession 2.23% 0.47%

Behind the numbers

Whole activism: Whole activism remained remarkably constant from 2020 to 2021. In each years there have been a complete of 89 new campaigns. This continues to be effectively under the pre-Covid years (102 in 2019 and 113 in 2018). We anticipate that as Covid subsides, individuals will return to work in-person and issues start to return to regular, activism will even return to its previous ranges.

What was distinctive about 2021, nevertheless, is that it was the primary yr since we started protecting “below the brink” (or UTT) activism in 2014 that the variety of UTT conditions exceeded the variety of 13D conditions. There have been 41 materials 13D campaigns and 48 UTT campaigns versus 48 materials 13D campaigns and 41 UTT campaigns in 2020. We imagine this displays two major issues: (i) activists more and more having the ability to be simpler with decrease share holdings and (ii) activists utilizing swaps and derivatives to bypass 13D necessities whereas exceeding 5% financial publicity.

Since 2017, the variety of 13D filings has decreased every year with solely 41 new activist 13D filings in 2021, in comparison with 48 in 2020, 61 in 2019, 65 in 2018 and 71 in 2017. Whereas there continues to be a drop off within the variety of 13D campaigns, the common market capitalization for focused firms is the best it has been since 2015. Furthermore, regardless of fewer 13D filings, the quantity of whole {dollars} invested in new 13D campaigns ($10.5 billion) is roughly the identical for the 41 such filings from final yr as it’s for the 48 13D filings in 2020. Each years considerably exceed the $8.8 billion invested within the 61 13D filings in 2019.

The variety of UTT campaigns in 2021 returned to its 2018 degree of 48 engagements after being stagnant with 41 engagements in 2020 and 2019. Whereas the entire {dollars} invested in new UTT filings in 2021 elevated by 27% from $8.2 billion in 2020 to $10.4 billion in 2021, that is nonetheless far under the $17.7 billion of 2018.

Activist traders: Whereas we’re nonetheless residing in a world pandemic, the activist investor base is wanting like 2020 with the reemergence of some main traders. For starters, Elliott Administration and Starboard had been each among the many most lively in 2021, though barely much less so in comparison with the prior yr. Elliott had seven campaigns in 2021 versus 9 in 2020, and Starboard had seven campaigns in 2021 versus eight in 2020. Additionally, among the many most lively was JANA Companions with seven campaigns in 2021, versus just one for 2020. Carl Icahn additionally picked up with 4 campaigns for 2021 versus two in 2020. We’re additionally seeing consistency with 2020 almost about the range within the 13D filer base, with 34 distinctive filers in 2021 and 33 distinctive filers in 2020, versus 49 distinctive filers in 2019. This continues to make sense as a result of when a technique turns into more and more more difficult, as activism has attributable to Covid, usually traders who’re using activism as a core technique will proceed utilizing it.

Industries: The highest 4 industries focused in 2021 had been: (1) Info Know-how, (2) Client Discretionary, (3) Financials and (4) Well being Care, and these industries made up 68.54% of all activism in 2021. In 2020, the highest 4 industries focused had been (i) Client Discretionary, (ii) Info Know-how, (iii) Well being Care and (iv) Industrials, the 4 of which comprised 56.18% of all 2020 activism. Industrials left the highest 4 by going from 10 engagements (11%) to 5 engagements (6%) and was re-placed by Financials, which went from six engagements (7%) in 2020 to 13 engagements (15%) in 2021. Furthermore, that is the primary time since 2016 that Info Know-how surpassed Client Discretionary as probably the most focused trade. One different notable change was Vitality reducing from eight campaigns in 2020 to solely two in 2021.

Outcomes: Activists have been comparatively on par with the outcomes of their campaigns in 2021 versus 2020 primarily based on the 40 13D and UTT campaigns in 2021 which have been determined (excluding the 38 pending, 9 withdrawals and the 2 campaigns the place the activist didn’t take any particular activist measure). The share of settlements (68% in 2021 versus 62% this time final yr), full wins (3% in 2021 versus 4% this time final yr) and losses (30% in 2021 versus 22% this time final yr) remained pretty constant.

A take a look at the up to date 2020 information (which is extra full than 2021 information attributable to many pending 2021 engagements), reveals a putting revelation. In 2020, 68% of 13D engagements settled versus 38% of UTT conditions. Furthermore, solely 18% of 2020 determined 13D conditions have resulted in a loss versus 34% of determined 2020 UTT campaigns whereas 15% of 13D engagements have resulted in a full or partial win versus 28% of UTT conditions. Furthermore, that is in keeping with the combination variety of 13D and UTT campaigns between 2014 and 2020.

Ken Squire is the founder and president of 13D Monitor, an institutional analysis service on shareholder activism, and the founder and portfolio supervisor of the 13D Activist Fund, a mutual fund that invests in a portfolio of activist 13D investments.

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