Jan 10, 2024 - Business

Shareholder activism sets global record

an illustration of an executive chair with a megaphone laying on it

Illustration: Tiffany Herring/Axios

Shareholder activism across the globe surged in the fourth quarter, helping to bring the two-year tally on campaigns to a record high, Barclays data show.

Why it matters: The spike in dissident investor activity sets the stage for boardroom battles in the spring and early summer when most annual meetings and director votes take place.

Details: Shareholders launched 229 activist campaigns in 2023, bringing the two-year total to 464 — the busiest such stretch on record, Barclays notes.

  • The fourth quarter saw 71 campaigns, tripling the previous quarter and marking the largest Q4 surge on record.
  • Activist campaigns shot higher in Europe and Canada while U.S. activist campaigns, where the majority of activity occurs, fell 20% in 2023, a drop that correlates with a slow down in M&A deals.
  • Campaigns of note include RC Ventures going after Alibaba, Trian's attack on Disney, and Elliott's push for changes at Salesforce.
  • Elliott once again recorded the most campaigns (by far) with 15 in the year.

Of note: Activists secured 134 board seats in 2023, a 30% increase and a five-year high.

  • Barclays says that a new proxy fight rule put in place by the SEC has given activists more leverage to win seats. The rule, known as the Universal Proxy Card, puts all board director candidates on a single ballot, rather than on separate cards as was done before.
  • Activists won 36 seats in final votes at AGMs, a 125% increase, according to Barclays.
  • Elliott won the most board seats (18) last year, all through settlement agreements with companies. That includes 16 independent directors, with three or more seats won at BioMarin, Catalent, Goodyear and NRG.
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