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How Canada stacks up in global shareholder activism

Activist investor Carl Icahn.

CHIP EAST/REUTERS

When it comes to global proxy battles, Canada is one of the hot spots, according to an annual report by London-based data provider Activist Insight.

Nine per cent more companies were publicly targeted by activist investors around the world in 2013 than a year earlier, the report noted. And although Canada makes up just 6 per cent of the 237 target companies tracked – compared to 71 per cent for the U.S. – the country has been referred to as the "promised land" for activist activity.

Canadian laws make it a more shareholder-friendly regime than the U.S., according to Canadian investor Stephen Griggs, who authored a regional section of the report. Mr. Griggs launched a new activist firm Smoothwater Capital Corp. in mid-2013 and has already targeted two companies.

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The early warning system in Canada is among the factors that Mr. Griggs says make the country more activist friendly. In Canada, an investor must alert management and other shareholders when a 10-per-cent investment position in a company is amassed, but in the U.S., the declaration is made at just 5 per cent.

Mr. Griggs also notes that most Canadian boards of directors have yet to implement an "advance notice bylaw" that requires shareholders to communicate intentions to put a new director forth for consideration and offer considerable disclosure on such a candidate. Such bylaws are not yet widespread in Canada the way they are in the U.S., he said.

How long Canada will maintain these shareholder advantages is unclear, Mr. Griggs noted. Canada is already looking to tighten some of its disclosure rules. "Time will tell if Canadian regulators move the 'shareholder-friendly' regime closer to the 'unfriendly' U.S. approach, with institutional shareholders objecting to these initiatives and director groups and executives actively supporting them," he said.

With or without Canada's more lenient rules, activists around the world made many changes to boards and management teams in the past year. More than three-quarters of the resolved activist actions were at least partly successful, according to Activist Insight.

The firm also ranked the top 10 activists in the world. It bestowed the top honour upon tweeting corporate raider Carl Icahn with 14 campaigns and eight new investments. And Mr. Icahn is certainly not resting on his laurels, buying another $500-million (U.S.) in Apple Inc. stock today.

Rounding out the top three were Jeffrey Ubben and George Hamel's firm ValueAct Capital and Dan Loeb's firm Third Point partners. Jana Partners LLC, which lost a high-profile fight against Agrium Inc. last year, came in at number seven.

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