Monday, October 19, 2009

The Best Activist Investment of 2009

Fascinating stuff.

Bolton: Raider of the Lost Ark

Bolton had started acquiring BrisConnections units through an investment company, Australian Style Investments, in November last year. Before too long, he’d spent A$47,000 to acquire a 15% stake and become BrisConnections largest unitholder. He’d also taken on a A$94M liability, money that he did not have. What he did next comes straight from the World Poker Tour. No, he didn’t fold. He went all in, upping his stake to 19.9%. Why 19.9%? Under Australian law, a purchaser of 20% of a company’s stock is obliged to make a takeover bid to all remaining stockholders. By sitting at 19.9%, Bolton had the option of making a bid for the remaining stock, but not the obligation. He then approached BrisConnections about refinancing the liability. When BrisConnections failed to respond, he moved to have management removed and the trust dissolved. The application achieved its end: It got the attention of management. It was, however, a long shot. Bolton needed the support of 75 per cent of his fellow investors to have the dissolution resolution passed. It was also not clear that it would prevent the fund from collecting the first installment. Under Australian law, the trust had 21 days to call a general meeting and 45 days to hold it, by which date the notice demanding the first installment fee would have been issued. If BrisConnections management was nervous about the dissolution, they didn’t show it in the media. The chairman, a Mr. Trevor Rowe, described the application as “frivolous,” while a spokesman described it as “a mere sideshow to a $5B infrastructure project that is promising to provide 11,000 jobs.” They also made it known that a liquidation of the trust would not extinguish the first A$1 liability owing on each unit. BrisConnections advisers where not so sanguine: one, Macquarie, co-underwriter and financier of BrisConnections, brought an injunction action against him seeking to prevent him from holding the meeting. In a two-minute hearing, the judge did not uphold any of Macquarie’s claims, or grant the injunction to stop the meeting of unitholders from proceeding. It was swift justice, and it seemed to set the scene for something very rare: a highly entertaining general meeting.

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