NEW YORK — Activist money manager Knight Vinke Asset Management LLC, New York, is becoming increasingly familiar to CEOs and CFOs of underperforming blue-chip European companies.
The firm's $454 million Knight Vinke Institutional Partners, an absolute-return fund, takes stakes in a few companies at a time, then attempts to get other institutional shareholders to support its campaign to restructure the management and the broader company, if necessary.
Sometimes the stakes Knight Vinke takes are so tiny they slip under the radar of public disclosure. For example, early last year, the fund held less than 0.1% of Royal Dutch Petroleum NV, when it rallied larger shareholders and helped engineer a campaign for the group to reform its governance and improve accountability. As of April 30, the fund owned shares in five companies. Its largest stakes are in French utility Suez SA and its Belgian subsidiary, Electrabel SA.
Since the fund started investing in December 2003, Managing Director Eric Knight has worked with leading institutional investors to force sweeping management board changes at Royal Dutch/Shell, in which Royal Dutch Petroleum is the majority shareholder, and is trying to get the executive board of Suez SA to focus on its core businesses and clear its debt. Mr. Vinke said Suez is a "fabulous company" that is undervalued by at least 50%.
Mr. Vinke said fund officials are quietly buying stock in three other firms they consider potential targets for collective action by shareholders. He wouldn't name them.