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Why This Activist Investor Is Pushing for a Shake-Up at Samsung

Oct 05, 2016

U.S. hedge fund Elliott Management, known for taking on big targets, is now pushing for changes at the largest company in its investment portfolio: Samsung Electronics.

The activist investor sent a letter to the South Korean tech giant on Wednesday, urging it to pay a special dividend and to streamline its group of businesses and management structure.

Elliott said in a letter sent to Samsung's board that the company should split into a listed holding company and a listed operating company.

The $27 billion hedge fund also said Samsung should consider other moves to benefit shareholders, including listing its operating company on the U.S. Nasdaq stock exchange, and paying a $37 billion special dividend from its $70 billion cash pile.

Elliott said the new holding company should look at a possible all-stock merger with Samsung C&T Corp—the subsidiary that the New York hedge fund targeted in a heated shareholder battle last year that the hedge fund lost.

Samsung (ssnlf), which has a market value of $230 billion, was not immediately available for comment. Elliott, founded by billionaire Paul Singer, owns 0.62% of the company's shares.

According to a person familiar with the matter, Elliott is seeking to speak with Samsung's leaders and board, and work with the company collaboratively to implement its proposed changes.

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Elliott's investment comes after Samsung has undertaken a series of moves to pave the way for a stable handover from the ailing Lee Kun-hee, who runs the group, to his three children.

Lee's son, Jay Y. Lee, is seen as the heir apparent, and his profile at the company has risen during the past few years.

Among the hurdles to the handover is South Korea's inheritance tax, which could cost the company around $6 billion.

Speculation on how Samsung could restructure its business has loomed for at least a year, with analysts offering up a variety of options, including the so called "opco/holdco" division that Elliott proposed on Wednesday.

Elliott nodded to Samsung's recent stock buyback, but said its "substantial and excess net cash position comes at a very real and tangible cost to shareholders."

Samsung Electronics' shares have risen 27% this year, though by Elliott's calculations, Samsung's stock trades at a more than 30% discount compared to peers.

Elliott has also called for three new independent directors on the company's board.

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