Two months after reports emerged that BHP Billiton plc had hired Barclays Capital to sell its Fayetteville shale gas assets, which it acquired for $4.75 billion in 2011, investors of the dual-listed company's Australian arm BHP Billiton Ltd. are said to be on board with the majority of a plan proposed earlier this year by activist investor Elliott Management Corp.
Australian Foundation Investment Co. and Wilson Asset Management International Pty. Ltd. have met with Elliott Management, and both believe the activist's campaign has been helpful, The Australian Financial Review reported late Sunday, July 16.
Australian Foundation most recently reported holding roughly 14,000 of BHP's Australia-listed shares worth $275 million, representing a 0.44% stake in the company, according to FactSet Research Systems Inc. It is unclear what size stake Wilson Asset Management holds in BHP, but it is possible both investment firms could influence the company to consider listening to some of Elliott Management's ideas.
Elliott Management launched a campaign back in April asking BHP to consider spinning off its oil and gas business, claiming that it could be worth $22 billion as a standalone business-or $15 billion more than their current valuation within BHP.
BHP quickly rebuffed Elliott's concerns, claiming it already reviewed the petroleum unit and determined it was adequately valued within its portfolio, but shortly after the company said it would indeed market some of its U.S. holdings, including the Fayetteville shale properties in Arkansas and its Hawkville assets in south Texas' Eagle Ford Shale.
Elliott, led by billionaire Paul Singer, also has called for an overhaul of BHP's board, a review of top management and the dismantling of BHP's dual listing in the U.K. and Australia.
Australian Foundation managing director Ross Barker told the Financial Review he is in agreement with Elliott that the company's dual listing should be done away with in favor of an Australian-listed company. Of course, the chances of the opposite happening are slim as Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison declared any attempt to shift BHP's listing from Australia would be blocked.
Meanwhile, Barker also said that a review of all of BHP's petroleum business might not be warranted, but the company's U.S. shale assets could be sold.
To be sure, this is not the first time this year that Australian investors have raised concerns with BHP that align with Elliott Management's views.
Sydney-based hedge fund Tribeca Investment Partners in May called for "significant turnover" of the BHP board even though an analysis of the board by The Deal showed two new directors added this year, with a third expected to retire in the fall.
Tribeca also agreed that BHP's U.S. oil business would be better off in someone else's hands, but did not believe dropping the dual-listing or selling the entirety of its oil and gas portfolio were the right moves. It is unclear what size stake Tribeca holds in BHP.
BHP spokeswoman Bronwyn Wilkinson declined to comment directly on recent reports concerning retail investors, but said in an email to The Deal on Tuesday that the company continues to engage with shareholders and has an ongoing, extensive engagement program to listen to investor concerns and feedback.
As for the U.S. asset sales, Wilkinson had no update, but BHP's fiscal fourth quarter report, which is due out Tuesday evening, could provide some updated insight. BHP has not confirmed whether Barclays is currently working on a review of the assets, but company operational reviews from about three years ago show Barclays has in the past performed a strategic review on some of the company's Fayetteville holdings.