Nestle SA (NSRGY) shares drifted lower in early trading in Zurich Monday even as investors scanned a letter from activist Dan Loeb that called for faster asset sales from the iconic food group and further simplification of its corporate structure.
Third Point LLC, the activist hedge fun managed by Loeb that unveiled a $3 billion holding in Nestle last year, published a letter to investors on Sunday that called for "urgency - rather than incrementalism" in changes to the group's broader strategy, which Loeb insists should be focused on three main business areas -- beverages, nutrition and groceries -- and must include the sale of divisions such as frozen foods and confectionary.
"Nestlé has been too slow to react to significant changes across the consumer products industry given structural issues around strategy, portfolio, and organization, and thus operates far below its potential," Third Point said in a presentation published on its 'NestleNow' activist website. "Mark Schneider has acknowledged the need for improvement, but pace and magnitude of change seem insufficient and reflect Nestlé's staid, sometimes sclerotic, culture and tendency toward incremental improvements."
Nestle shares were marked 0.26% lower in the opening hour of trading in Zurich and changing hands at Sfr76.70 each, a move that takes their year-to-date decline to around 8.54%, well ahead of the 4.48% slide for the Stoxx Europe 600 Food & Beverage index but just a few points better than the 9.19% decline for Switzerland's SMI benchmark.
Third Point also reiterated its view that Nestle should dump its 23% stake in cosmetics giant L'Oreal SA (LRLCY) , which is worth around €23 billion, and invest the cash back into both the company's core business and share buybacks. L'Oreal CEO Jean-Paul Agon sad earlier this spring that "if Nestle one day wants to sell, we are ready", but the Vevey, Switzerland-based group has insisted it's making no changes to its 44-year-old pact with the Paris-based cosmetics group.
L'Oreal shares were seen 0.95% lower on the session in Paris in early Monday trading, but have rise more than 13.2 so far this year amid speculation of a potential bidding war for the Nestle stake.
"We are not in disagreement or unsympathetic to many of Third Point's challenges to Nestle," Jefferies analyst Martin Deboo said Monday. "Like them, we question the retention of the (L'Oreal) stake as we dislike in principle bundled, passive investments in associates. We also share many of Third Point's views on the structural unattractiveness of the portfolio and the lower level of ambition of its targets compared to (Unilever plc (UL) )."
"However, we question whether the confrontational style is likely to achieve the changes Third Point is seeking," he added. "Ultimately, they are a relatively small shareholder in percentage terms, who have arrived on the register relatively recently. It's not clear to us whether they have meaningful support elsewhere in the investor base."
Nestle's biggest move since Loeb first revealed his stake last year came in early May, when the group announced a $7.15 billion deal with Starbucks Crop. SBUX for the exclusive worldwide rights to sell the Seattle, Wash.-based company's branded products, establishing Nestle as the world's biggest coffee company, a move Schneider said as the time was "all about growth."