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Activist Jeffrey Smith’s Bloomberg Summit Interview and Comments About Targets

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Jeffrey Smith of the $4.4 billion activist hedge fund Starboard Value is laser focused on one thing and one thing only. He’s willing to do whatever it takes, including fighting with entrenched management in proxy fights, to get it. Smith is focused on guiding management into the right path and unlocking value for shareholders. Given Starboard Value’s annual return of 16.2% since 2002, Smith has done an admirable job so far. Smith recently did an interview at the Bloomberg Summit, and below are some of the interview highlights:

Jeff SmithAt Insider Monkey, we track hedge funds’ moves such as Starboard Value’s in order to identify actionable patterns and profit from them. Our research has shown that hedge funds’ large-cap stock picks historically delivered a monthly alpha of six basis points, though these stocks underperformed the S&P 500 Total Return Index by an average of seven basis points per month between 1999 and 2012. On the other hand, the 15 most popular small-cap stocks among hedge funds outperformed the S&P 500 Index by an average of 95 basis points per month (read the details here). During the three years since the official launch of our small-cap strategy in August 2012, it has performed just as predicted, returning over 102% and beating the market by more than 53 percentage points. We believe the data is clear: investors will be better off by focusing on small-cap stocks utilizing hedge fund expertise rather than large-cap stocks.

Smith first talked about how his fund works and how it is different from other activist funds. Starboard Value invests in undervalued companies where there is an alternative plan different from management’s existing plan to unlock value. Starboard first approaches management in a friendly manner and requests management take some or all of their advice. If management doesn’t see the wisdom, Starboard will go activist and challenge management with a proxy fight. Smith’s fund is different from other funds in that Starboard is more operationally focused, and works with management to guide the company through future challenges and opportunities. The fund isn’t in it for the quick buck, and doesn’t ask a company to leverage up to pay its shareholders a big dividend.

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Among the many companies Starboard is involved in, Smith talked extensively about three of them in the interview, Advance Auto Parts, Inc. (NYSE:AAP)Brink’s Company (NYSE:BCO), and Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO).

Smith believes Advance Auto Parts, Inc. (NYSE:AAP) is substantially undervalued because it isn’t run as well as it should. Smith notes that similar competitors Autozone, Inc. (NYSE:AZO) and O’Reilly Automotive Inc (NASDAQ:ORLY) have operating margins of around 20% while Advance Auto Parts has operating margins of 12%. He believes Advance Auto Parts’ operating margins could be just as high as its competitors if management’s execution improves, non-core assets are monetized, and some working capital comes out of the business. Smith has a price target of $360 per share and Starboard owns 3.7% of Advance Auto Parts’ float. Other elite investors who are also long Advance Auto Parts include Stephen Mandel‘s Lone Pine Capital and Jeffrey Tannebaum’s Fir Tree.

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