Morgan Stanley holds top spot as activist defense firm: data

BOSTON (Reuters) – Morgan Stanley was ranked as the top adviser to companies targeted by activist investors publicly for the third straight year in 2018 while Goldman Sachs vaulted past two competitors to the number No. 2 spot, according to Refinitiv data published on Thursday.

A sign is displayed on the Morgan Stanley building in New York U.S., July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

In 2018, Morgan Stanley advised on 22 campaigns, working with Akamai Technologies, SandRidge Energy and Cigna when those companies faced pressure from prominent agitators such as Elliott Management and Carl Icahn, the data showed.

Unlike announced mergers and acquisitions, many companies that fend off activists do so quietly and do not want their advisers making the situations public. This can create discrepancies in the data gathered in the league tables.

Goldman Sachs advised on 18 public campaigns in 2018. In 2017 Goldman advised on six public deals, trailing Morgan Stanley, Lazard and Raymond James, claiming the fourth spot, Refinitiv data shows.

Lazard dropped to the number three spot in 2018, advising 16 companies. In 2017, a less busy year overall, Lazard advised 14 companies.

Spotlight Advisors, founded by Greg Taxin, a lawyer who worked as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs and Banc of America Securities, made its first appearance on the list, capturing the No. 4 four spot ahead of UBS, Citi, Raymond James, Credit Suisse and Moelis & Co.

Activists were busier than ever last year and launched 500 campaigns, 5 percent more than in 2017. They pushed companies to spin off divisions and asked for board seats, among other demands.

Consumer cyclical companies were the most heavily targeted last year, Refinitiv said, with 90 campaigns in the sector. One prominent campaign was at Campbell Soup Co, where Daniel Loeb’s Third Point tried to replace all directors and initially pushed for a sale of the company.

Elliott Management, which launched campaigns at BHP Billiton Ltd, Qualcomm Inc, Bayer AG and Pernod Ricard last year, was ranked as the busiest activist, having launched 27 campaigns in 2018.

It beat out GAMCO Investors for the top spot.

Starboard Value, ranked as the third-busiest activist with 11 campaigns in 2018.

Innisfree and Okapi were the top proxy solicitors, firms hired to gather shareholders’ votes, while Olshan Frome Wolosky beat out two competitors to rank as the busiest law firm with 101 mandates working for activists.

Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Dan Grebler

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