Activist Elliott Bets $1.3B on SAP Profit Growth

The German software giant has prioritized revenue growth but is now taking steps to boost the profitability of its cloud business.
Matthew HellerApril 24, 2019

Activist investor Elliott Management is adding its clout to the push for change at SAP, disclosing it has built up a 1.2 billion euro ($1.35 billion) stake in the German software giant.

The disclosure came as SAP unveiled plans Wednesday to improve its performance with a focus on positioning the company as a “best in-class provider of cloud applications across any type of cloud delivery model.”

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A special board committee will oversee an operational review and SAP will announce “definitive project milestone targets” on Nov. 12, the company said.

Elliott’s stake of around 1% in SAP marks the first German technology investment by the $34 billion U.S. hedge fund group.

“SAP is one of the great technology franchises in the world and one of the only scale software businesses with growing on-premise revenue alongside 30%+ growth in cloud revenue,” Elliott said in a news release.

Noting that SAP’s stock “has been consistently undervalued relative to its revenue growth,” Elliott welcomed the company’s operational review.

“The combination of SAP’s growth profile, operational targets and forthcoming share repurchase analysis can generate tremendous earnings growth over the next several years,” it said.

Under CEO Bill McDermott, SAP has prioritized revenue growth, which has increased from 14 billion euros in 2011 to 25 billion euros last year. But according to The Financial Times, some SAP shareholders “have been disappointed by its profitability, with margins declining over the past eight years and its share price underperforming the sector.”

The company said Wednesday its first-quarter revenue topped 1.5 billion euros for the first time, up 45% from a year earlier, but it posted an operating loss of 136 million euros, compared with a profit of 1.03 billion a year earlier.

As Reuters reports, Elliott technology-team partner Jesse Cohn and portfolio manager Jason Genrich “have a track record of close involvement with the firms they back,” with Cohn last month taking a board seat at online marketplace eBay.

The firm said SAP had set the right targets for 2023 with a 75% cloud gross margin and 500 basis points of operating margin improvement.