Jan 3, 2024 - Business

Activist hedge fund fight within Disney heats up

Illustration of two hands grabbing for a Mickey Mouse ears hat surrounded by abstract shapes.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

The activist hedge funds within Disney's stock are fighting each other. Trian, ValueAct, Ancora and Blackwells — it's a fight within a fight.

Why it matters: A lot of activists in a stock is typically a bad thing for companies. In Disney's case, the hedge fund free-for-all is a good thing for its defense.

Details: The activist news around the mouse kicked off Wednesday morning with an announcement that ValueAct struck a confidentiality agreement with the company to share key information with the investor. ValueAct, in turn, said it would support Disney's slate of directors.

  • Given its reputation of working constructively with management teams (while working behind the scenes to get other institutional investors' endorsements for changes), ValueAct's public support is unsurprising.
  • The importance of Wednesday's news is that the relationship is now official, out in the open and a key defense pillar for Disney. Disney gets a guaranteed yes vote for its slate and, presumably, ValueAct's influence with other institutional investors when it comes time for them to vote.

Yes, but: Trian has what is likely the largest activist stake in the company, at nearly 2% of common equity and voting power, and also has hard-charging activist Ancora in its camp. The Trian/Ancora duo is added activist power against Disney's ability to keep its board in place.

  • "Trian welcomes other shareholders attempting to help fix this iconic but wayward company," a fund spokesperson said Wednesday morning, in response to the ValueAct news. Trian added in the statement that its board nominees, Nelson Peltz and former Disney exec Jay Rasulo, will bring the change that's needed to the board.

Meanwhile, Disney shareholder and activist Blackwells has waged its own campaign against Trian and Ancora, sending a release Wednesday morning with some choice words aimed at the two hedge funds.

  • Of course, by nominating three of its own directors for Disney's board, Blackwells is also waging a fight against the company, though its campaign rhetoric is more anti-Peltz, pro-Disney turnaround.

Zoom in: Don't forget that Blackwells is also going after Peltz and his role on the Wendy's board in a separate campaign.

  • Blackwells' dual effort against Trian has prompted some analysts to surmise that the hedge fund is waging its Disney campaign to gain leverage over Peltz in the expected Wendy's fight.

The bottom line: A hedge fund hotel being built inside of a company is usually a bad thing, as, more often than not, they form an alliance aimed at quick, stock-boosting company changes.

  • In Disney's case, the hedge funds are battling each other, and that will only help the company's defense.

Go deeper: What the heck is happening at Disney

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