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Disney white knight rides into the Trian fight

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

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Activist investor ValueAct's move to amass a large stake in Disney is expected to help — not hurt — the company's efforts to thwart Trian Partner's second campaign to seize seats on the board and push for major changes.

Why it matters: The arrival of the San Francisco activist fund to the Disney drama is seen as a positive for the company, but it still turns up the heat on CEO Bob Iger and his effort to boost a sagging stock price.

The big picture: Even before the investment, ValueAct CEO Mason Morfit had a friendship with Iger, per Bloomberg. Suffice it to say, Iger is on different terms with Trian co-founder Nelson Peltz.

  • ValueAct's brand of active management is built not on running proxy fights but on working closely with management on changes and boosting value. The fund is known for influencing large institutional investors behind the scenes to back their value creation thesis.
  • CNBC's David Faber reported Wednesday that Morfit is largely "supportive" of Disney's current strategy and has been in contact with Disney management.
  • The size of ValueAct's stake is still not known. Trian listed in an SEC filing Wednesday that its Disney stake is 32.8 million shares. The majority of those come via ex-Marvel chairman Isaac Perlmutter, who has handed voting power to the Trian.

By the numbers: Disney's stock closed Wednesday up 3% and is trading at $93.85 so far Thursday morning, roughly even with where it closed.

What they're saying: ValueAct's entry into the stock is being seen by analysts as a white knight coming to help rather than another agitator stirring the pot.

  • "The appointment of a VA director would certainly make life much tougher for Nelson Peltz, if he continues to seek multiple board seats," Gordon Haskett analyst Don Bilson wrote in a research note.
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