CryptocurrencyInvestingBanksReal Estate

Here’s why activist investors are winning so many fights

August 10, 2015, 3:16 PM UTC
Getty Images

Large mutual funds, long seen as friends of management, are changing sides. And their move to cozy up to activist investors is helping them succeed in their efforts to force change at major U.S. companies.

The Wall Street Journal reports that in a survey this year of more than 350 mutual-fund managers, a research group found that half of those managers had been contacted by an activist in the past year and 45% of those contacted decided to support the activist.

The support from mutual funds has resulted in key victories for activist investors. Those alliances have helped activists successfully remove the entire board at Darden Restaurants (DRI) and separately pushed General Motors (GM) to a quicker share buyback. Nelson Peltz may have lost his proxy war to break up chemicals giant DuPont (DD), but he came close.

The trend is also changing the makeup of corporate boards. Activists won a record 73% of battles for board seats in the U.S., up from 52% in 2012, WSJ reported, citing FactSet data.

How can companies respond? They’ve become more receptive to activists and their ideas, mulling calls for cost cutting, asset sales and share buybacks more seriously.