De La Rue chief fights for his job as activist investors target 57 of Britain’s biggest companies
- Martin Sutherland lost De La Rue’s contract to print the blue British passport
- Crystal Amber fund has built a stake worth about £22million
The boss of passport maker De La Rue is fighting for his future as activist investors target 57 of Britain’s biggest companies.
Martin Sutherland, who this year lost De La Rue’s prestigious contract to print the post-Brexit blue British passport, is under pressure from the Crystal Amber fund, which has built a stake worth about £22million.
Crystal Amber’s boss Richard Bernstein said: ‘We see change as inevitable. The share price is staying low and people don’t want to invest. The market is not buying into De La Rue’s strategy.’
Martin Sutherland this year lost De La Rue’s prestigious contract to print the post-Brexit blue British passport
The showdown at De La Rue comes as activists target dozens of firms in the FTSE 350, according to research by Activist Insight Online, setting the scene for change at well-known companies such as Barclays, Micro Focus, Hammerson, Smith & Nephew and Premier Foods.
Activists can be good news for normal shareholders, as they use their reputation, contacts and hefty cash piles to make complacent management teams seriously explore opportunities to boost the value of their companies. But some criticise the enormous influence they wield.
Whitbread last week surprised the City by announcing the sale of its Costa Coffee business to Coca-Cola for £3.9billion, after US-based activist funds Elliott Advisors and Sachem Head bought shares in the group and agitated for its break-up.
Russ Mould, investment director at broker AJ Bell, said: ‘Whitbread investors will be happy, including Sachem Head and Elliott, and this may raise the question of where they start to look next for hidden value.’
In the crosshairs could be shopping centre owner Intu, specialist retailer Pets At Home, oil company Petrofac and B&Q’s parent Kingfisher, according to Mould.
Crystal Amber is set to meet with De La Rue later this month – but the Mail understands that boss Sutherland will not be there. The fund is concerned that De La Rue has not outlined a plan for how it will survive after losing the £260million passport contract.
A De La Rue spokesman said: ‘De La Rue is three years into a five-year strategy and is making solid progress. Management continues to focus on implementing the strategy to create long-term value for our shareholders.’
Bernstein said there are ‘worrying parallels’ between De La Rue and British engineering giant GKN, which was taken over by turnaround investor Melrose earlier this year and is already being broken up. He said: ‘Both are terrific British companies with rich heritages, but in delivering shareholder returns have lost their way.’