Investor Relations

Activist Investor Takes $1B Position in AmEx

ValueAct Capital is the latest example of activists “moving up the corporate food chain toward larger targets” as their financial firepower increases.
Matthew HellerAugust 7, 2015
Activist Investor Takes $1B Position in AmEx

In the latest example of activist investors eyeing larger targets, ValueAct Capital Management has accumulated a stake in American Express, Bloomberg reports.

So far this year, activists have taken stakes in 17 companies with market capitalizations over $10 billion at the time the position became public, a full-year record and more than double the year-to-date average since 2006, according to FactSet. AmEx has a market cap of about $75 billion.

Citing people familiar with the matter, Bloomberg said ValueAct’s investment was about $1 billion–still less than 5% of American Express. The move comes as AmEx has been reeling from the loss of its partnership with Costco Wholesale Corp. and from a critical antitrust ruling that could put pressure on its ability to charge merchants higher fees.

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ValueAct, which manages more than $18 billion, is known for investing in companies with recurring revenues that it views as temporarily mispriced. Amex shares have tumbled about 20% this year through Thursday, one of the worst performances in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

On news of the ValueAct stake, the stock spiked on Friday, closing up more than 6% at $79.69.

“ValueAct is a well-respected firm,” AmEx said in a statement. “We have been speaking with them, as we do with other investors, and look forward to continuing a constructive dialogue.”

A person familiar with the situation told The Wall Street Journal that ValueAct hasn’t made any demands upon AmEx and that the conversations, which have included AmEx CEO Kenneth Chenault, began earlier this year.

ValueAct joins other activist investors that, according to the WSJ, have been “moving up the corporate food chain toward larger targets” as their financial firepower increases.

“Activists have gone after big companies before … but they have stepped up the pace,” the WSJ said.

Bill Smead, a money manager who started buying AmEx shares in the first quarter, doesn’t think ValueAct will demand big changes. “My guess is that they just have a lot of confidence of where the value of the business is going to be in the next three years,” he told the Journal.