5 Activist Hedge Funds to Watch

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Activist hedge funds: While hedge funds follow many different investment philosophies, the industry can be boiled down to two types of managers: the activists and the passivists. You’re probably more familiar with activist fund managers, like Carl Icahn or Bill Ackman, for example. Passive investors, on the other hand, are those who take a position in a company simply to benefit from potential appreciation, through growth, value or dividends.

Due to the market-beating potential of hedge fund activity, it is beneficial to keep an eye on both types of managers, but it’s particularly important to know if an activist is targeting any of the companies you’re invested in. We’ve already covered Carl Icahn’s new stake in Talisman Energy Inc. (USA) (NYSE:TLM) and Jana Partners’ Outerwall Inc (NASDAQ:OUTR) bet here on MarketWatch, but let’s run through a few other activist campaigns that have been lively over the past week.

Carl Icahn as viking

For starters, Jana Partners lowered its stake in Agrium Inc. (USA) (NYSE:AGU) to 2.7% of the company, about one-third the size of the position Barry Rosenstein’s hedge fund reported in its last 13F. While it may appear that Jana is ending its activism in the agricultural nutrient company, its filing indicates otherwise. In addition to offering general praise for Agrium’s efforts to improve capital allocation, controls and corporate governance (see the full recap here), Jana also said that it “may continue to take other steps…to bring about changes to increase shareholder value.”

The lesser-known Becker Drapkin Management, meanwhile, strengthened its grip on freight and logistics company Pacer International, Inc. (NASDAQ:PACR) last week; it now holds 9.2% of its outstanding shares. Pacer is a stock that is held by the likes of Chuck Royce and Ric Dillon, and when Becker Drapkin originally reported its position in May, the fund mentioned it was reviewing management and current strategies used by the company. There has been no direct mention of a desire to push for a spinoff or sale of Pacer, so a Board shakeup would likely be the most disruptive move here.

Another member of the smart money that doesn’t generate a lot of headlines is Eric Sprott’s Sprott Asset Management. In two separate filings with the SEC last Thursday, Sprott disclosed a 21.4% activist stake in Atna Resources Ltd. (TSE:ATN), a Canadian mining company. Sprott also reported a similarly sized position in one of Atna’s peers, Veris Gold Corp (TSE:VG). Both stocks are down over 60% in 2013 as most miners have struggled with falling bullion prices, but Eric Sprott’s reputation as a precious metals permabull looks to be the driving force behind these two new bets.

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