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Digital Subscriptions > The Hedge Fund Journal > Issue 131 – Apr 2018 > Cevian’s Friederike Helfer

Cevian’s Friederike Helfer

An assertive, constructive, European activist

“Tomorrow’s Titans” 2010 - 2016: Revisited

Cevian Capital has one strategy and one fund, pursuing active minority ownership of public, European companies. The current fund, Cevian Capital II, has returned 260% from inception in 2006 to January 2018, versus 77% for the MSCI Europe index over the same period. Returns in 2017 and 2016 have also outperformed the index, according to an investor. Recent exits from Volvo and Danske both contributed to Cevian’s outperformance. Cevian’s stake in Volvo was, in December 2017, sold to China’s Geely for c. €3 billion, generating a profit of c. €2 billion including dividend income for Cevian, who had held the stock since 2006 and added to their holding in 2013, 2014 and 2015. This was reportedly the largest sale of a stake to a strategic buyer ever by an activist, and one of the most profitable activist investments ever. Cevian exited its Danske Bank investment in November 2017, making even higher annualised returns: a profit close to 300%, including dividends, over the six-year holding period. Returns came from both a recovery in profits and an expansion in valuation. Danske streamlined its operations by selling assets in Ireland and Finland, shutting branches and reducing headcount. Return attribution has been very consistent with a hit rate close to 100% on exited positions. There has only been one realised loss since Cevian started investing in 2003: Munich Re, on which Cevian lost c. €60m between 2007 and 2009, and which was sold to redeploy capital into other positions.

Europe’s largest activist manager

Assets around $15 billion in early 2018 make Cevian the largest dedicated activist manager in Europe, and the second largest dedicated activist globally, according to Lazard’s 2017 Activism Review, which tracks activist positions (some activists also have passive investments). Cevian’s managers have steadily expanded their geographic purview. Their first vehicle, Custos, focused primarily on Swedish investments. Their second, Cevian Capital I, widened it out to the Nordic region. Their third, Cevian Capital II, has, since 2007, also invested in Northern Europe and particularly the UK and German-speaking countries. “It is important to speak German in the region. Many board meetings are held in German, and we build better relationships and networks by speaking German”, says Cevian partner, Friederike Helfer, who has featured in both The Hedge Fund Journal’s Tomorrow’s Titans and 50 Leading Women in Hedge Funds reports. Helfer is Austrian (raised near the Swiss border) and Cevian also employs Swiss and German nationals in the Zurich office. France is the furthest south Cevian has been invested. In some other Southern European domiciles, the firm finds the environment is not conducive to its style of ‘constructive activism’. Amber Capital is the only activist we know of that focuses on Southern Europe.

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