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投资理财

激进投资机构建仓促改革,AT&T股价大涨

Scott Deveau,彭博社 2019年09月15日

该机构给AT&T罗列了一份计划,希望它通过出售资产和削减成本,将公司股价推高50%以上。

在艾略特管理公司看来,正在从传统电信公司向多媒体巨头方向全面转型的AT&T公司的步子迈得还不够大,另一方面却也迈得太大了。

艾略特管理公司是亿万富翁保罗·辛格在纽约创办的一家对冲基金。最近,艾略特管理公司披露它已买入了32亿美元的AT&T股份。AT&T是美国规模最大、投资者范围最广的上市公司之一。艾略特管理公司在建仓的同时,也给AT&T罗列了一份计划,希望它通过出售资产和削减成本,将公司股价推高50%以上。

投资者普遍对艾略特公司此举表示欢迎,AT&T的股价也创下了10多年来的最大盘中涨幅。

对辛格来说,这也是艾略特管理公司创立近40年以来最大的一笔赌注。同时,艾略特管理公司也对AT&T一向求大求全的发展战略提出了抨击。

无线通讯行业的分析师齐坦·沙尔玛表示:“这将是一场斗争。”

本周一,艾略特管理公司在一封致AT&T董事会的信中,给出了一份涵盖四个部分的计划。该计划首先要求AT&T探索剥离一部分资产,包括卫星电视服务提供商DirecTV、墨西哥无线业务以及固网业务等等。

艾略特管理公司还敦促在CEO兰德尔·斯蒂芬森领导下的AT&T退出不符合其战略的业务,提高运营效率,并且停止进行大规模收购。艾略特管理公司还表示将推荐合适人选加入AT&T的董事会。

对此,AT&T公司近日回应道,它会认真审视艾略特公司的建议,并表示其中的很多条“是我们现在已经在执行的。”

AT&T表示,公司的战略是“由我们在通信网络、媒体和娱乐行业聚合的一系列有价值的业务驱动的。而且就像艾略特公司指出的那样,它也是创造重大价值的基础。”

AT&T还表示,公司相信,“发展和投资这些业务,对公司和我们的股东来说是一条最好的道路。”

不过投资者似乎认为,艾略特管理公司的计划能让他们从AT&T身上榨取到更多价值。本周一,AT&T的股价单日飙升5.2%,涨至38.14美元,创下自2009年3月以来最大的盘中涨幅,同时其股价也处于去年2月以来的最高水平。

投资AT&T也是艾略特公司成立至今最大的几笔投资之一。艾略特公司表示,该公司之所以选择投资AT&T,就是因为AT&T在一段时期的“表现一直严重不佳”之后,其价值被严重低估了。标志就是过去10年间,AT&T的股票始终跑不赢标普500指数。

艾略特公司还指出了AT&T的一系列战略失误,包括几笔总金额达2000亿美元的收购。其中“最具破坏性”的一次,是AT&T试图以390亿美元收购美国T-Mobile公司。后来这笔交易被美国政府叫停了,AT&T也被迫支付了有史以来最高额的分手费——约60亿美元的现金和资产。

艾略特公司指出:“AT&T的失败的收购,除了给自己造成了内部和外部的压力,还资助了一个未来几年可能威胁到自己的竞争对手。”

艾略特公司随后还抨击了AT&T对DirecTV和媒体巨头时代华纳的收购。这番抨击也给今年59岁的斯蒂芬森带来了不小的压力。这些交易正是在他的操刀下完成的。

不过,尽管艾略特公司吃下了AT&T的不少股票,但光靠它一家,是很难推动AT&T的改革的,除非其他AT&T的投资者也支持它的立场。以目前披露的情况来看,艾略特公司持有的AT&T股份占AT&T总市值的比例只有1.2%。

此外,艾略特公司还呼吁AT&T采取积极措施削减成本,以实现到2022年将利润提高3%的目标。由于视频业务用户流失严重,加之无线业务的大范围打折,AT&T当前的利润已经受到了不小的压力。艾略特公司指出,威瑞森通讯等主要竞争对手在解决这些困难上做得要比AT&T更好。

艾略特公司还在信中称,它已经发现了能够为AT&T节省100亿美元以上的机会。不过目前,它的计划只要求AT&T节省50亿美元的成本。

艾略特公司还呼吁AT&T进行一系列企业治理方面的改革,比如将CEO和董事长的职权分离(目前这两个职务都由斯蒂芬森担任),以及成立一个战略研究委员会,以确定公司发展机遇等。

转型收购

通过前几年的一系列交易,AT&T已经从一家传统的电信公司转型成了一个多媒体巨头。2015年,AT&T以670亿美元收购了卫星电视服务提供商DirecTV,一跃成为美国付费电视公司中的龙头老大。艾略特公司在信中批评这笔交易是“在最高点进入有线电视市场”,结果刚一进场,行业就走了下坡路。

然后,AT&T开始坚定不移地进军娱乐和媒体行业。2018年,AT&T以850亿美元收购了时代华纳。这笔交易也带来了HBO、CNN和华纳兄弟等重量级资产。

艾略特公司的合伙人杰西·柯恩和投资经理马克·斯坦伯格在信中指出:“尽管从签约到交易完成一共花了将近600天的时间(而且现在又是一年多过去了),然而AT&T仍未就收购时代华纳给出一个明确的战略理由。虽然现在判断AT&T与时代华纳的合并究竟能否创造价值还为时过早,但我们仍然对这次并购的好处持谨慎态度。”

引战专家

艾略特公司的“毒舌”在业界是出了名的。光是去年,eBay、保乐力加、拜耳等全球知名的大企业就都挨过它的批判。AT&T也是艾略特公司有史以来做出的最大的一笔激进的单一股权投资。

这也不是艾略特公司第一次对一家大型电信公司开炮了。这家对冲基金曾经与威望迪争夺过意大利电信公司董事会的控制权,并且最终在2018年获胜,不过这场战争一直拖到今年才告结束。

这些斗争也并非总是以艾略特公司的成功而告终。今年早些时候,在与现代汽车集团的代理人争夺战中,投资者们最终选择了不在现代集团的两家子公司中选举董事。但即便艾略特公司在一些重大斗争中落了下风——比如面对韩国三星电子,但它的频繁出击,依然在代理人之争的范畴以外激起了不少涟漪。

2015年,三星成功挡住了艾略特公司的一次进攻,但此事的发酵,却在之后引起了一连串蝴蝶效应。先是几十万人在首尔游行示威,再是三星集团的继承人李在镕因挪用公款和行贿被判刑,最后连韩国总统朴槿惠都锒铛下狱。

身负重债

除了金融机构和由政府支持的实体,AT&T是世界上负债最多的公司。截至今年6月,该公司的总负债达到1940亿美元,这也是斯蒂芬森连续大手笔收购的结果。据知情人士2016年向彭博社透露,这位CEO的平板电脑上有一张表格,里面是好几十家公司的名单,他经常对着这张表格,研究他的下一笔大交易。

根据彭博社的数据,AT&T的股票也是被最多机构投资者持有的20支美国上市公司股票之一。这在一定程度上是由于它的分红比较稳定,去年它的分红达到每股2.04美元,使投资者无论在好年景还是坏年景,都能获得比较可靠的分红收入。(财富中文网)

译者:朴成奎

AT&T Inc.’s sweeping transformation from Ma Bell to a multimedia titan has gone both too far and not far enough for Elliott Management Corp.

Billionaire Paul Singer’s New York hedge fund disclosed a new $3.2 billion position in AT&T, taking on one of the nation’s biggest and most widely held companies with a plan to boost its share price by more than 50% through asset sales and cost cutting.

Investors applauded the development, sending AT&T shares on their biggest intraday rally in more than a decade.

For Singer, the move represents one of the biggest bets in the four decades since the hard-driving activist investor founded his firm. And it strikes at the core of the way AT&T has built its bigger-is-better empire.

“There will be a fight,” said Chetan Sharma, a wireless-industry analyst.

Elliott outlined a four-part plan for the company in a letter to its board Monday. The proposal calls for the company to explore divesting assets, including satellite-TV provider DirecTV, the Mexican wireless operations, pieces of the landline business, and others.

It urges AT&T, led by Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson, to exit businesses that don’t fit its strategy, run a more efficient operation and stop making major acquisitions. Elliott said it would also recommend candidates to add to AT&T’s board.

In response, AT&T said it would review Elliott’s recommendations and said many of them are “ones we are already executing today.”

The telecom giant said its strategy is “driven by the unique portfolio of valuable businesses we’ve assembled across communications networks and media and entertainment, and as Elliott points out, is the foundation for significant value creation.”

The carrier said it believes that “growing and investing in these businesses is the best path forward for our company and our shareholders.”

Still, investors seem to think Elliott’s plan could wring more value from AT&T. The shares surged as much as 5.2% to $38.14 in New York trading Monday. That was the biggest intraday jump since March 2009 and put them at their highest level since February of last year.

Elliott said the investment -- among its largest to date -- was made because the company is deeply undervalued after a period of “prolonged and substantial underperformance.” It argued this has been marked by its shares lagging the broader S&P 500 over the past decade.

It pointed to a series of strategic setbacks, including $200 billion in acquisitions, the “most damaging” of which was its $39 billion attempted purchase of T-Mobile US Inc. That deal resulted in the largest breakup fee of all time when the government blocked it in 2011 -- about $6 billion in cash and assets.

“In addition to the internal and external distractions it caused itself, AT&T’s failed takeover capitalized a viable competitor for years to come,” Elliott said.

The hedge fund also slammed the subsequent acquisitions of DirecTV and media giant Time Warner Inc. That puts particular pressure on Stephenson, 59, who oversaw the deals Elliott criticized in the letter.

But, while the position in AT&T is large, Elliott may have a difficult time pushing for change unless it gets other investors to back its stance. Its newly disclosed stake in AT&T represents just about 1.2% of the company’s total market value.

Elliott’s plan also calls for aggressive cost-cutting measures that aim to improve AT&T’s margins by 3 percentage points by 2022. Those margins have come under pressure amid cord cutting in video and widespread discounting in wireless, and Elliott said competitors like Verizon Communications Inc. have done a better job addressing those headwinds.

Elliott said in the letter it has identified opportunities for savings in excess of $10 billion, but the plan would only require cost cuts of $5 billion.

Elliott is also calling for a series of governance changes, including separating the roles of CEO and chairman -- currently held by Stephenson -- and the formation of a strategic review committee to identify the opportunities at hand.

Transformative Deals

With a series of deals over the past several years, AT&T has transformed itself from a traditional telecom company into a multimedia behemoth. The company bought satellite-TV provider DirecTV for $67 billion in 2015, leaping into first place among U.S. pay-TV companies. Elliott criticized that deal in its letter as having come “at the absolute peak of the linear TV market.”

AT&T then moved firmly into entertainment and media with the $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner in 2018. That deal brought marquee assets such as HBO, CNN and Warner Bros.

“Despite nearly 600 days passing between signing and closing (and more than a year passing since), AT&T has yet to articulate a clear strategic rationale for why AT&T needs to own Time Warner,” Jesse Cohn, a partner at Elliott, and Marc Steinberg, an associate portfolio manager, said in the letter. “While it is too soon to tell whether AT&T can create value with Time Warner, we remain cautious on the benefits of this combination.”

High-Profile Fights

Elliott has a history of tackling some of the biggest and most high-profile companies around the globe, including EBay Inc., Pernod Ricard SA, and Bayer AG in the past year alone. The AT&T investment marks Elliott’s single largest equity investment with an activist slant.

It’s not the first time Elliott has taken on a major telecommunications company, either. The hedge fund battled Vivendi SA for control of the board of Telecom Italia SpA, eventually winning control in 2018 in a fight that dragged on into this year.

Those battles don’t always end in success. In Elliott’s proxy fight at Hyundai Motor Group earlier this year, investors opted not to elect its slate of directors at two of the South Korean manufacturer’s subsidiaries. But even in some of its major losses, like at Samsung Electronics Co., the repercussion of its agitations can send ripples beyond the proxy clash.

Samsung managed to keep Elliott at bay in 2015 but touched off a series of events that resulted in a brief jail term for the electronics giant’s billionaire heir apparent for influence peddling, protests by hundreds of thousands of people in Seoul, and the downfall and imprisonment of South Korea’s president, Park Geun-hye.

Heavy Debt

AT&T is the most indebted company in the world -- not counting financial firms and government-backed entities -- with $194 billion in total debt as of June, a legacy of Stephenson’s steady clip of large acquisitions. The CEO used to keep a spreadsheet of a few dozen companies that he studies on his tablet to plan his next big deal, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg in 2016.

The stock is among the top 20 most widely held U.S.-traded companies among institutional investors, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s partially because of its steady dividend, which totaled $2.04 a share last year, giving investors a reliable payout in good times and bad.

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