Potential Activist Funds Line Up to Take a Salesforce Stake

  • Corvex, Jana, Sachem Head all named company in latest filings
  • Salesforce shares are trading close to their all-time high

As Salesforce.com Inc. made headlines late last year for considering a Twitter Inc. bid and signaling plans to hit $20 billion in sales, it was also attracting the attention of some new -- and potentially agitated -- investors.

Three hedge funds, who are sometimes activists, took stakes in Salesforce in the three months ended Dec. 31, according to regulatory filings Tuesday. Keith Meister’s Corvex Management amassed 3.45 million shares, Barry Rosenstein’s Jana Partners acquired 3.17 million, and Scott Ferguson’s Sachem Head Capital Management bought 2.13 million.

Combined, the funds own a stake in Salesforce valued at about $708 million, based on the closing price Tuesday of $80.92. The San Francisco-based company has a market value of about $57 billion.

Representatives for Salesforce, Corvex and Sachem Head declined to comment. A representative for Jana didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Acquisition Strategy

The moves come after the company faced investor concerns about its acquisition strategy -- including the interest in Twitter. In September, the troubled social-media service held informal talks with potential suitors, with Salesforce one of the main parties interested in a deal, according to people familiar with the matter. The transaction would’ve been a large one for the business software provider to swallow: Twitter’s market valuation at the time was about $16 billion, or about a third of the whole of Salesforce’s.

The interest cooled off after shareholders questioned the wisdom of such a purchase, which had already rattled the company’s shares, the people familiar with the matter said at the time.

Also last year, Salesforce emerged as a potential rival bidder for LinkedIn Corp., which agreed to be acquired by Microsoft Corp. in June for $26.2 billion in cash.

Investor concerns about a large deal were further stirred after Chief Executive Officer Marc Benioff in November said on a analysts’ call it was his “dream” to double the company within the next three to four years, according to analysts at Cowen & Co. Some investors may have thought acquisitions were needed to drive that much growth, the analysts said, though they downplayed those worries.

Salesforce had forecast in November revenue of $8.365 billion to $8.375 billion for fiscal year 2017 that ended Jan. 31. For fiscal year 2018, it projected $10.1 billion to $10.15 billion. During the call, Benioff also said the next goal for the company was for $20 billion in sales.

Small Stakes

The stakes taken by the new investors are small, and won’t necessarily be used to agitate for change. Shares in Salesforce are trading close to their all-time high of $83.77, hit on May 27. In 2015, when Salesforce hired bankers to help it field interest from potential suitors including Microsoft, the stock traded around $66 a share.

Meister, who previously worked for billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn, formed Corvex at the end of 2010. He has most recently been active at pipeline operator Williams Cos., online radio service Pandora Media Inc., and fast food chain Yum! Brands Inc.

Sachem’s Ferguson is also the protege of a famed activist, working under Bill Ackman at Pershing Square Capital Management before leaving in 2012 to start Sachem Head. He’s recently targeted Autodesk Inc., with Sachem’s board representatives at the maker of design software stepping down just last week.

Jana holds activist stakes in magazine publisher Time Inc. and industrial distributor HD Supply Holdings Inc. While most of New York-based Jana’s investments aren’t activist, it’s those campaigns that often attract the most attention.

Salesforce gives its next financial report at the end of this month. In its last update, the company said sales grew 25 percent to $2.14 billion in the quarter ended Oct. 31. Still, that was below the rate of more than 30 percent as recently as the first half of 2015. Its adjusted operating margin declined slightly to 12.7 percent.

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