While shareholder activism activity in the U.S. has recently leveled off, activity outside of the country continues to increase significantly. In 2018 we saw an increase in activist campaigns in Europe and Canada, but perhaps the largest increase was seen in Asia Pacific countries Japan, Korea and Australia. Activism in Asia reached a record high, with 111 companies publicly subject to activist demands in the region in 2018, and shows no signs of slowing down. It may not be a surprise that the biggest director fights this year outside of the U.S. involved a Korean conglomerate.

It’s clear that activism in Asia Pacific will continue to grow as western investors are diving into a market that until recently was largely untapped. What are the challenges and opportunities for sophisticated investors and how can you navigate the hurdles associated with exerting influence in the region?

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State of the Market: Insurgent Investors Arise in Asia Pacific

Investors in Asian companies have traditionally taken a more passive approach, with public criticism of the company being rare.  Complex ownership structures, cross-shareholding, government participation and family control have always insulated corporations, but now have become targets of criticism by shareholder activists.  As western activists look to Asia for new opportunities, and domestic investors are becoming more comfortable with the concept, management teams and boards in the region are being forced to listen.  This panel will explore the current state of shareholder activism in Asia Pacific, and examine where the opportunities may be for sophisticated western investors. 

Japan 

In 2018, the most heavily targeted country in the region by far was Japan, where 47 corporations were hit with activist campaigns.  U.S. and some local activists often target Japanese corporate groups, known as keiretsus, which are large conglomerates that are run by an owner or family. Campaigns often focus on corruption, nepotism or what insurgent managers perceive as hoarding of cash.  

South Korea 

The Korean market has been shielded in the past - and chaebols, large industrial conglomerates that are run and controlled by an owner or family, have been able to run their businesses without much outside influence. With an influx of foreign investors and a strong- pro-corporate governance message from the South Korean government, Korea clearly is not immune from western shareholder activist campaigns.  Elliott Management's proxy campaign at both Hyundai Motors and its affiliate, Hyundai Mobis, is 2019’s largest non-U.S. director fight, and also appears to be the biggest boardroom contest ever to have taken place in South Korea.  

Australia 

Australia also experienced a record high number of activist engagements in 2018, with 78 companies targeted, perhaps because the legal framework in Australia is activist-friendly.  Shareholders with 5 percent of a company can convene a general meeting, and the country’s “two-strikes law” means that an entire company board can face re-election if shareholders disagree with how much executives are being paid. Much of the activism in Australia has mainly targeted small, micro and nano-cap stocks, but the success of Elliott Management’ campaign against BHP could mean that activists could now see opportunity in large-cap stocks.

Singapore 

Domestic activists are behind much of the rise of shareholder activism in Singapore.  With the support of global institutional investors, activists are becoming more confident in bringing their grievances to the board and have been moving away from private negotiations.  Singapore’s two highest profile cases of recent years, Olam International, the world’s largest food commodities trader, and the commodity trader Noble Group, were both characterized by a highly aggressive approach centered on concerns over accounting practices.  Activism may increase in the near future as proposed changes to Singapore’s Code of Corporate Governance call for more to be done to encourage board renewal, director independence, board diversity, and the disclosure of the relationship between remuneration and value creation. 

The Rise of Shareholder Activism in Asia Pacific conference attracts fund managers, institutional investors, corporate advisory firms, proxy advisors, corporate executives and board members. Attendees will explore the challenges and opportunities present in Asia Pacific, and how learn how to navigate the hurdles associated with exerting influence in the region?

Who attends:

  • Hedge Fund Managers
  • Investment Bankers
  • Institutional Investors
  • Shareholder Activists
  • Corporate Advisory Firms
  • Proxy Solicitors and Advisors
  • Corporate Law Firms
  • Investor Relations Professionals
  • Executives, Chairmen & Non-Executive Board Members

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