Will Talisman Energy Inc. be a repeat of the tale of Petro-Canada, where a pair of big and impatient investors show up at an underperforming oil company and push for a sale? There are some tantalizing hints that it could be.
Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan and hedge fund West Face Capital, which both worked to engineer the sale of Petro-Canada, are now suddenly among Talisman's biggest shareholders after snapping up millions of shares in the second quarter.
There's no public indication from either that they plan an activist campaign. They disclosed their filings in 13F forms, rather than 13D forms that signal activist intent. Spokespersons for both funds didn't immediately return requests for comment on the reasons for the purchases.
Nonetheless, the decisions by the funds to stealthily buy at the same time is raising eyebrows among those watching, given that Ontario Teachers and West Face have a history of showing up in some of the same deals.
West Face bought 10.8 million Talisman shares in the second quarter, after having previously owned none, according to a securities filing. That gives the hedge fund just over 1 per cent of Talisman. Ontario Teachers increased its stake by 12.3 million shares to 17.4 million, which represents 1.7 per cent.
They were buying as the stock plumbed lows not seen in three years. After having reached $24 in early 2011, it dropped to about $10 in May, 2012.
A spokesman for Talisman said he is not aware of any talks with the shareholders outside of the company's regular discussions with investors.
"We are in routine discussions with anybody and everybody who wants to talk to us," said Talisman spokesman David Mann. "The one thing I would say is over the few weeks and months there is some recognition of a lot of good things going on," he added, pointed to a focus on production of natural gas liquids and the company's deal to raise cash by selling assets to Sinopec.
West Face was a mover behind the scenes in the Petro-Canada saga, buying up stock and pushing management to find a way to get the stock price higher. Ontario Teachers then added its heft, buying about 3 per cent of Petro-Canada, and confirming publicly that it was pushing management for "creation of shareholder value" in the weeks before Petro-Canada agreed to a merger with Suncor Energy Inc. in the spring of 2009.
More recently, West Face bought a big batch of share of Maple Leaf Foods Inc. from Teachers, which had long backed Maple Leaf but soured on the company's prospects. West Face then led a successful push to revamp the company's board.