NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Juniper Networks (JNPR - Get Report) said on Thursday evening it had reached a deal with hedge fund Elliott Management that will have the activist fund support the company's operating plan through 2015 in exchange for two seats on its board.
Elliott will support Juniper's so-called integrated operating plan, which will seek to refocus the network infrastructure company on High-IQ networks and cloud offerings and focus the company's research and development spending. Juniper also announced a plan to cut $160 million in costs from its business by the first quarter of 2015 and target operating margins of 25% in that time span. The company further committed to a $3 billion capital return over the next three years.
Juniper's board authorized a $2 billion repurchase through the first quarter of 2015, and initiated a quarterly cash dividend of 10 cents a share beginning in the third quarter of 2014.
In developing its plans, Juniper said it engaged in constructive discussions with Elliott Management. Juniper reached an agreement with the hedge fund to support its proposals and said on Thursday it would nominate Kevin DeNuccio and Gary Daichendt as new independent directors."(Thursday's) announcement is an incredibly positive development for Juniper and its shareholders," Jesse Cohn, a portfolio manager at Elliott Management, said in a statement. "Shaygan [Kheradpir, CEO of Juniper Networks] and his team have developed a thoughtful and highly value-accretive plan to invest for growth, significantly streamline and target the operations, and meaningfully return capital to shareholders. Further, Shaygan and the Board, which will be adding two leading operations-focused executives, have impressed us with a focused commitment to accountability and execution of the plan," Cohn added.
"Juniper's shifting culture (One-Juniper), focused growth strategy (cloud, High-IQ networks) and transitioning management/board (2 new members suggested by Elliot) are positive steps. But some investors could remain skeptical given past performance. It's up to Juniper to execute from this point," Oppenheimer analysts said in a Friday client note. Nevertheless, Oppenheimer upgraded Juniper's price target by $2 a share to $32 a share on Friday, and said the plan would give investors new confidence in the company. In mid-January, Elliott Management said in a regulatory filing that the fund has accumulated a stake of more than 6% in Juniper Networks and will seek to meet with management about a potential sale of the company or changes to its strategy or capital structure. Juniper Networks specializes in data network infrastructure and the switching and routing that occurs on distributed networks. The company's shares were rising nearly 2% to $27.88 in premarket trading on Friday. Shares in the company have gained over 20% year to date after underperforming broader markets last year. Already, Elliott Management has had a busy year. Earlier in January, Elliott offered a $3 billion buyout of Riverbed Technologies (RVBD) and said it would be amenable to a sale process where other strategic or financial acquirers bid on the company. Elliott Management also recently reached an agreement with Compuware (CPWR) to gain representation on the company's board. Elliott has offered $2.3 billion to take over Compuware. Currently, the company is in the process of executing a two-year cost-cutting initiative that is expected to boost capital returns at the Detroit-based software specialist. In 2013, the fund was also part of an investor consortium that acquired BMC Software. That privatization deal, which included Bain Capital, Golden Gate Capital, Insight Venture Partners and a Singaporean sovereign wealth fund, came after Elliott had advocated a breakup of the cloud software specialist. Elliott has been successful in selectively targeting underperforming tech sector specialists, amid a land grab for mobility, software and cloud computing services among Silicon Valley heavyweights like Oracle (ORCL) and Cisco (CSCO).