Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Activist Labor Fund Wants Citi Split

A five-year-old effort to press for changes at Citigroup Inc. by a major activist labor union just went into high gear.

In a letter sent to Citigroup's board late Friday, shareholder the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, said it wants the bank to complete a strategic plan that includes splitting the company into two units in light of its financial problems stemming from the subprime mortgage credit crunch. AFSCME director Richard Ferlauto says he doesn't want to dictate specific terms, but thinks Citigroup should divide its commercial banking division from its investment banking unit.

"We want to see Citigroup spin off its Citi Smith Barney division," says Ferlauto.

AFSCME's letter follows an effort by the labor union fund to have shareholders vote to remove Citigroup directors at the megabank's April annual meeting. According to Ferlauto, between 25% to 30% of shareholders voted against the re-election of some Citigroup directors at the meeting.

"This is a strong indication of unhappiness of the company's direction," Ferlauto says.

Additionally, Citi, which has lost roughly $54 billion due to the credit crisis, has already raised more than $40 billion of new capital mostly from sovereign wealth funds. - Ron Orol

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

InBev's Anheuser Proxy Contest: No Annual Meeting Necessary

When beer titan Anheuser-Busch Cos. set up its bylaws to allow shareholders to act by "written consent," it probably did not expect the measure would be used by a rival in a campaign to take control of the brewer in an expedited manner. But, in fact, that is exactly what appears to be happening with InBev SA's plan released Monday to use the measure to replace 13 board members, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Some corporations permit written consent provisions in their bylaws because they want procedures in place to give investors the ability to quickly endorse debt refinancing programs in cases when shareholder approval is required for those actions. But having such a provision in place also makes the company vulnerable to dissident shareholders seeking to bring in their own director candidates.

Unlike most corporations, Anheuser-Busch has a bylaw provision permitting "written consent solicitation."

To employ written consent solicitations, the activist distributes proxy documents to other shareholders asking them to sign a card saying they want to vote their shares to remove certain directors from the board and replace them with candidates nominated by the dissident. Typically, if investors with more than half of the total shares outstanding vote to remove the incumbent directors, the activist wins and his nominees are installed on the board. The campaign is different from a traditional proxy contest because it does not take place on the day of the company's annual meeting. As a matter of fact, no meeting must take place for the consents to be approved and for the directors to be removed and replaced.

It's likely Anheuser-Busch set up its bylaws to permit written consent solicitations thinking its double-digit billion dollar stock market capitalization would discourage hostile bidders and proxy contests.

But after removing its classified board, it looks increasingly like Budweiser should have killed the written consent solicitation bylaw a long time ago. The majority of other public corporations already recognize why that bylaw shouldn't be in place. - Ron Orol

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Insurgent Investor Mark Schwarz Isn’t Taking No for an Answer

After specialty property and casualty insurance company Specialty Underwriters Alliance Inc. rejected his Hallmark Financial Services Inc.’s $6.50 a share, or $115 million, bid to buy the company, Schwarz on July 1, Tuesday, sent a letter to the company’s directors outlining benefits of such a deal.

“Hallmark senior management stands ready to meet with members of the board to answer questions regarding the proposal,” Schwarz wrote in a letter attached to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

The specialty property and casualty insurance company last week rejected Schwarz’s unsolicited takeover bid. Schwarz owns 9.9% of Specialty Underwriters.

In the filing, Schwarz points out that his offer represents a 31% premium on the $4.96 a share Specialty Underwriters Alliance was trading at on Friday June 20, the last business day before the company made Schwarz’s offer public, Monday, June 23. Schwarz also argues that SUAI’s business model will be improved by the addition of Hallmark’s strong financial position. This transaction will allow SUAI shareholders to enjoy a much higher return on their pro-rata share of invested capital in a combined company,” Schwarz added.

Schwarz’s investment vehicle, Newcastle Partners is the controlling shareholder of Hallmark Financial. -- Ron Orol