Paul Singer's Elliott Management jumped on board Alcoa (AA) prior to the metals giant's split into two independent companies, agreeing last February to a deal that gave it three director seats. Though the split was completed Nov. 1 Elliott is still apparently pushing for changes, establishing a growing stake in the now-independent finished products company Arconic (ARNC) .
Elliott in a Schedule 13D filed Nov. 2 said it has increased its interest in the company from 7.5% to 9%, saying that following the separation it believes Arconic's shares "are dramatically undervalued and represent an attractive investment opportunity." The firm said it intends to engage in private discussions with the company within the framework of the February agreement regarding how to improve operating performance and build value.
It is not uncommon for an activist to push a spun off business to seek a buyer, but in the case of Arconic it is unclear how far Elliott will be able to push. According to an ISS Quickscore report obtained by The Deal the board is set up for staggered elections, meaning investors would not be able to take control of the board in one annual election. Additionally, the backing of 25% of shares is needed to convene a special shareholder meeting.
Elliott could have some help should there eventually be a proxy fight, as activists Highfields Capital Management and Orbis Investment Management, among others, are rumored to be in the stock as well. But Arconic is already heavily indebted, taking on all of Alcoa's $9 billion in total debt and $3 billion of the combined $5.6 billion in pension obligations at the time of the split, and appears more focused at present on balance sheet repair than it is special dividends or other substantial cash returns to investors.
Arconic also debuted to weaker than expected earnings, issues the company insisted were short-term delays in orders due to specific customer issues and not a sign of long-term concerns.
Singer's Elliott seemingly had Arconic in mind when it first struck its deal with Alcoa. The three directors it named, all of whom are now on the Arconic board, have experience in the aerospace and automotive end markets Arconic serves.
Ulrich Schmidt is the former CFO of Spirit Aerosystems Holdings (SPR) , John C. Plant was once chairman and CEO of TRW Automotive and Sean O. Mahoney is a one-time auto banker who is a director at autoparts firms Delphi Automotive (DLPH) and Cooper-Standard Holdings (CPS) .
Arconic is a holding of Jim Cramer's Action Alert Plus Charitable Trust Portfolio. In a note Monday Cramer and director of research Jack Mohr wrote that although Arconic "is trading like a down-and-out asset," they found it a more attractive investment than Alcoa.
"Although Arconic will be choppy in the near term as the company solidifies an investor base, works to pay down debt and deals with short-term headwinds in aerospace, we believe the long-term opportunity at these levels is favorable, as investors appear to be discounting the leadership positions Arconic holds across its various end-markets," Cramer and Mohr wrote.
It remains to be seen if investors like Elliott are willing to be as patient.
- Ron Orol contributed to this report