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Activist Investors Take Aim at Cloud Software After Market Swoon

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  • Activist investors have taken stakes in Everbridge and Anaplan, which are both part of the struggling cloud index.
  • After several years of outperformance, cloud stocks have been battered to start 2021, leaving an opening for activists.
  • "We consider all opportunities to enhance shareholder value," Everbridge said in a press release, acknowledging receipt of a letter from Ancora Holdings.

Activist investors this week took aim at a beaten-down sector of the stock market: cloud software.

It started early Thursday, when Ancora Holdings sent a letter to the board of Everbridge, whose software helps companies respond to emergencies. Everbridge's last CEO resigned abruptly in December, and Ancora is urging the company to find a buyer rather than a new leader.

Later on Thursday, two hedge funds known for activism campaigns disclosed stakes in financial planning software vendor Anaplan and said they were looking to install four people on the company's board.

While Everbridge and Anaplan face very different internal challenges, they're part of a group that's been battered this year as investors have rotated out of growth and risk and into areas like energy and utilities.

Prior to this year's market swoon, activists largely avoided cloud companies. The stocks, for the most part, dramatically outperformed the market for several years, leaving little opportunity to unlock value. And most companies in the space don't possess the level of operating profit that activists prefer.

The most notable exceptions were file-sharing app Box and big data software company Cloudera, which had both underperformed their peers.

Box emerged victorious in a proxy fight with Starboard Value in September, with shareholders reelecting CEO Aaron Levie and two other incumbent board members and turning away Starboard's three board nominees. Cloudera went private last year after prominent activist Carl Icahn took a position in the stock.

With the cloud basket tumbling to start the year, activists are showing their readiness to make the leap. The WisdomTree Cloud Computing Fund has fallen 21% since the start of 2022, while the S&P 500 index is down 6.4%.

Anaplan and Everbridge since start of 2021
Anaplan and Everbridge since start of 2021

Ancora expressed concerns to Everbridge about management turnover and poor performance at the federal government level, and said a CEO change would not be enough to fix all of the company's issues.

"Everbridge must now undertake the challenge of rebuilding virtually every aspect of its go-to-market efforts, restructuring the sales force and rebuilding important lost muscle in the marketing department," Ancora wrote. "Although these challenges are solvable, we do not believe they can be addressed by the current management team."

Everbridge shares jumped 13% on the news. But the stock is still down 77% from its all-time high in February 2021.

The company's board responded to the letter by telling investors that it would review Ancora's commentary. Everbridge said it's paused any acquisition activity to focus on integrating its products and lowering costs. The company also reiterated its plan to find a new CEO.

"We consider all opportunities to enhance shareholder value and will evaluate Ancora's perspectives through this lens," Everbridge said.

'Attractive' opportunity

Anaplan hasn't experienced quite the same level of volatility as Everbridge. Its stock peaked in February 2021, and has since dropped about 40%. The shares rose 7.6% on Friday.

Keith Meister's Corvex Management and Scott Ferguson's Sachem Head Capital Management teamed up to pursue changes at Anaplan. Meister, who was previously CEO of Icahn Enterprises, signed an agreement earlier this month to coordinate their efforts.

According to regulatory filings released on Thursday, Corvex and Sachem Head bought Anaplan shares because they viewed them as undervalued and "an attractive investment opportunity." Jonathan Soros, a son of investor George Soros, also joined in the buying spree through JS Capital Management.

The three firms combined own about 9% of Anaplan's outstanding shares, the filings show.

Anaplan competes with legacy software vendors like IBM, Oracle and SAP. In November, the company reported slowing growth in its billings and current remaining performance obligation, prompting Piper Sandler to tell clients the stock's recovery thesis had "stalled out." The shares sank 15%.

The next month, Corvex representatives spoke with Anaplan CEO Frank Calderoni and conveyed the firm's opinion's on Anaplan's business, according to one filing.

Corvex told Anaplan in February that it intended to nominate Meister for election to Anaplan's board. Sachem Head informed Anaplan it would seek to nominate three people. Corvex ranks as one of the most prolific activist firms, having launched 28 campaigns to date, according to FactSet.

Anaplan didn't respond to requests for comment and the company hasn't yet released a statement on the activists' effort.

WATCH: Hightower's Stephanie Link says Anaplan is set up for earnings

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