Activist Cevian Capital complains about bad strategic decisions after building 5% stake in insurer
Last modified on Tue 8 Jun 2021 12.22 EDT
Europe’s largest activist fund has built a 5% stake in the London listed insurance company Aviva as its chief executive, Amanda Blanc, became the second female FTSE 100 boss to have her strategy questioned by an activist investor.
Cevian Capital, a Swedish investment firm with $16bn under management, said Aviva, Britain’s biggest general insurer, should return £5bn of excess capital next year after it completes the sale of a collection of non-core divisions.
Blanc is one of only seven female chief executives leading a FTSE 100 company. Emma Walmsley, chief executive of the drugmaker GSK, is being currently targeted by the New York hedge fund Elliott Management, run by the billionaire Paul Singer, which took a sizeable stake in GSK to push for change in April. Elliott is reported to have initially questioned whether Walmsley should lead the pharmaceutical company, before changing tack to demand an acceleration in her plans to spin off the GSK’s consumer healthcare division next year. She will outline a 10-year strategy for the business at an investor day on 23 June.
Since Blanc took the helm at Aviva last July, the insurer has sold eight businesses in France, Italy, Asia and elsewhere to focus on its key markets of the UK, Ireland and Canada. The sales will raise £7.5bn, and it said last month it planned to return money to shareholders, without specifying how much. Analysts estimate that the insurer will have £3.7bn to £6.6bn of excess capital following the completion of the disposals.
Cevian, the largest activist fund in Europe, is also pushing for more cost cuts, saying reductions of at least £500m could be achieved by 2023. Aviva has already said it will reduce costs by £300m by 2022.
Christer Gardell, one of two managing partners who founded Cevian in 1996 with Lars Förberg, said: “Aviva has been poorly managed for many years, and its high-quality core businesses have been held back by high costs and a series of bad strategic decisions.”
Cevian has expressed confidence in Aviva’s senior bosses and the company’s potential. Gardell said: “We believe chairman George Culmer and CEO Amanda Blanc are committed to crystallising this potential and delivering substantial shareholder value.”
He said a “focused and high-performing Aviva should be able to have a value in excess of £8 per share within three years, and more than double the dividend to 45p”. The Aviva share price rose 3% to 422.80p on Tuesday.
An Aviva spokesperson said: “Aviva has made significant strategic progress over the past 11 months and we remain sharply focused on further improving our performance. We regularly engage with investors and welcome any thoughts which move us towards our goal of delivering long term shareholder value.”
Russ Mould, investment director at the stockbroker AJ Bell, said: “The poor long-term performance record of Aviva’s shares is hardly Amanda Blanc’s fault and she is already working to fix it … This may explain why Cevian does not seem to be agitating for a change of leadership or a board seat and appears to be taking a more ‘suggestivist’ stance, since in many ways it and Aviva seem to be in agreement over what to be done. Cevian appears to think that more could be done and faster to release further cash and generate further capital appreciation.”
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