SYDNEY (Reuters) - Global fund manager Aberdeen Standard Investments fully supports activist investor Elliott Management’s push for widespread structural changes at mining giant BHP Billiton (BHP.AX), a senior Aberdeen manager said on Wednesday.
Commenting a day before BHP holds its Australian general meeting in Melbourne, where the board of the world’s biggest mining house is expected to come under renewed scrutiny over its ill-fated $20 billion (£15.2 billion) investment in U.S. shale, Aberdeen Asia managing director Hugh Young said Elliott was “100 percent correct” in pressuring for change.
Aberdeen is the third-biggest shareholder in BHP’s London- listed stock, with a 4.88 percent stake, just behind Elliott, which has a 5.04 percent holding, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Elliott, founded by billionaire Paul Singer, has been pushing for BHP to jettison U.S. oil and gas assets.
It has also staged an unusual public campaign to muster small investors to help drive changes at BHP, one of the most recognisable corporate names in Australia, using social media to state its position.
Speaking to reporters, Young said Aberdeen was in “very close contact with Elliott”, despite Elliott holding “slightly shorter” investment horizons than Aberdeen.
Aberdeen manages $718 billion in assets and is known for taking a long-term view on investments. In April, it said Elliott’s plan was OK in principle but added that it may prove complex.
BHP Chairman Ken MacKenzie has previously rejected any suggestions that Elliott was dictating polices at BHP.
BHP entered the shale business at the height of the fracking boom in 2011 and invested billions developing the operations. The fall in oil prices since then has led to pre-tax writedowns of about $13 billion.
BHP last month said divestment of a small portion of onshore shale acreage was completed in the September 2017 quarter, with “work underway” to exit the remaining acreage.
Young said the timing of future divestments was up to BHP.
“But they should not necessarily succumb to short-term pressure to do something for the sake of doing something,” Young said.
Elliott initially proposed BHP replace its dual London and Australia stock listings structure.
But under a revised proposal, Elliott has called for BHP to retain full Australian and London listings, with ordinary shares listed in Australia.
(The story was refiled to correct the final paragraph to show Elliott proposes BHP retain, not abandon, LSE listing)
Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Joseph Radford and David Evans