Activist investing has become quite the rage in the equity marketplace. Activist investors are proliferating, and there is a marked inflow of new capital to this asset class. The discipline of activist investing is popping up in more conversations about the nature and role of equity investors. As a result, it is occupying the thoughts, and sometimes the nightmares, of an increasing number of corporate executives and their advisers. The phenomenon has even become a topic du jour of academics, who are busily finding sufficient economic value in the function of activist investing to justify urging the SEC not to shorten the historic minimum time frames for reporting accumulations of more than 5% of a company’s stock explicitly to permit activists to accumulate larger blocks before disclosure of their activities results in a rise in market trading values for the stock in question.
Activist investing has a long pedigree in the equity markets dating back to the late 1970’s. Back then and throughout the 1980’s, activist investors were known by less flattering sobriquets such as corporate raiders, bust-up artists and worse. Activist investing has changed since those heady, junk bond fueled days. Then, the favorite game plan of activist investing was to threaten or launch a cash tender offer for all, or at least a majority, of the target company’s outstanding stock with funding through an issuance of high yield bonds. Today, activist investors rarely seek equity stakes in target companies above 10%, and their financing comes not from the public debt or equity markets but rather through private hedge funds that they sponsor and manage.