Liberté, égalité, fraternité... and Elliott Advisors


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The Independent Online

How did Elliott Advisors – normally an exponent of capitalism at its most brutal – get cast in the role of heroic revolutionary?

For your answer, look at Alliance Trust. It has felt like its message to the legion of small investors who save with it amounted to “let them eat cake”. They have endured lacklustre performance while directors have picked up nice fees for approving huge packages for the chief executive Katherine Garrett-Cox.

Elliott’s activities may change that, after the bitter battle over its attempt to force three new directors on the investment trust resulted in an uneasy ceasefire in April at the cost of two of them joining the board.

Now the trust has announced another two board appointments weeks after an ugly set of interim results. These were said to have been made “following consultation with our largest shareholders” – the largest among them being Elliott, which has been adding to its stake and its clout.

So did Alliance rustle up the new boys for Elliott’s approval? Or did Elliott suggest Alliance might like to consider them with an unspoken “or else”? Sources close to Elliott insisted it was the former.

Still, the appointments can only add to the intrigue. Karl Sternberg founding partner of Oxford Investment Partners, now earns a crust sitting on several boards, and will serve as Alliance’s senior non-executive. Chris Samuel is an even more interesting hire. The chief executive of Ignis, before last year’s big-money sale to Standard Life, he shook up that firm’s strategy and pursued actions such as the outsourcing of its administration to HSBC.

Alliance’s critics have argued that it should engage in some outsourcing, although it is the investment management they focus on. Regardless, Mr Samuel would make an intriguing candidate to replace Ms Garrett-Cox were she to be ushered out.

The chances of that have been rising as the old regime is replaced.

In her recent blog post, she spoke bullishly about Alliance’s portfolio holding up well in the face of recent China-centred turmoil. Maybe so, but it’s going to take more to stop Elliott and its supporters from storming Alliance’s Bastille.