Activist investor demands split-up of Nestle SA

An activist investor of Nestle SA, Daniel Loeb has urged the food and beverage giant to split-up into three parts to become bolder about restructuring and take advantage of opportunities.

“This is a call for urgency – rather than incrementalism – to capitalize on fleeting opportunities and innovations that competitors will capture if Nestle does not energize itself,” Loeb who runs Third Point Hedge Fund, wrote in a letter to Nestlé’s board.

Loeb’s hedge fund invested $3.5bn in Nestle over a year ago giving it a 1.25% stake in the Swiss group.

He said the company should split into three divisions – beverages, nutrition and grocery – in order to better hold management accountable and reduce “layers of bureaucracy”.

Nestle saw a 2.4% organic sales growth in 2017, its slowest in more than two decades. Pre-tax profit fell to SFr 9.5bn Swiss Francs (€8.2bn), down from SFr 12.5bn in 2016.

However, the firm’s CEO Mark Schneider, who has been on the job since January 2017 argues that sales growth has remained towards the top end of the industry, and moved up slightly in the first quarter of 2018.

While Mr. Loeb has been supportive of Mr. Schneider’s work, the activist investor is frustrated by the slow pace of change, and by the CEO not bringing in executives from outside the company instead of relying on the company’s insiders to fill management ranks.

Mr. Loeb wants the company to focus on its mantra of “nutrition, health and wellness”. This, he said would involve selling-off non-core businesses, such as stake in French cosmetics company L’Oréal, where it holds 23% stake valued at $27bn. Loeb expects sale of about 15% of the firm’s non-core revenue. So far, the company has only sold 2% of its non-core businesses. The activist investor adds that proceeds from sale of non-core businesses could be used to buyback shares of the company or acquire companies more in line with the firm’s health conscious image.

The hedge fund manager, who is known for his poison pen, was at times scathing in his 34 page remarks to Nestlé’s board.

“Nestlé’s insular, complacent and bureaucratic organization is overly complex, lethargic, and misses too many trends,” Loeb wrote in his letter.

“The company has been woefully late to participate in some of the new trends that have driven growth in food and beverages allowing incipient brands and more focused competitors to capture market share,” he said.

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