Activist-Impelled Divestitures and Shareholder Value

Emilie Feldman, Management, The Wharton School, and Siwen Chen, Management, The Wharton School

Strategic Management Journal, Volume 39, Issue 10, October 2018

Research Summary: This study analyzes how the divestitures that are impelled by activist investors in their campaigns against public corporations affect shareholder value. Using hand‐collected data on the activist campaigns that were launched against and the divestitures that were undertaken by Fortune 500 companies between 2007 and 2015, we find that activist‐impelled divestitures are more positively associated with immediate and longer‐term measures of shareholder value than comparable manager‐led divestitures. These performance differences persist for nearly two years after the completion of these deals. Our results empirically test the idea that firms with agency problems unlock shareholder value when they divest, and support the notion that activist investors fulfill an important external governance function. Our work also opens new research opportunities and offers practical implications as well.

Managerial Summary: This study investigates how divestitures that are undertaken at the behest of activist investors affect shareholder value. We find that divestitures that were undertaken under pressure from activist investors are associated with more positive shareholder returns than comparable divestitures that were undertaken voluntarily by managers. These performance differences persist for nearly two years after the completion of these deals, alleviating concerns about the purported short‐termism of activist investors. Our findings suggest that activist investors may fulfill an important governance function by inducing managers to undertake strategies that they might not otherwise pursue, thereby unlocking shareholder value.

Read the full paper here.