This Week's Activist Filings

By Sham Gad | February 23, 2011 AAA

This week's current batch of SEC 13D filings has the potential to create a lot of buzz in the marketplace. One includes an attempt to trump a takeout offer while another has a value investor is going activist for the very first time. And in between, investment pros are building positions. (For a quick refresher, check out Digging In To 13D Disclosures)

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Florida on My Mind
Fairholme Capital, run by value legend Bruce Berkowitz and manager of the ultra successful Fairholme Fund, is moving out of its comfort zone and into the activist spotlight. Fairholme's modus operandi has always been to buy cheap companies with solid managements and ride them to great success. That will not be the case with Florida real estate company St. Joe (NYSE:JOE). As 29% owner of the company, Fairholme has succeeded in appointing two representatives to Joe's board. Several weeks later they resigned citing the inability to work with management. Fairholme is now trying completely change the make up of the board.

Joe's shares are down nearly 60% in the last five years as the real estate crisis began to unfold. Recently, hedge fund titan David Einhorn publicly disclosed a short position in St. Joe arguing that book value of the company's land assets are significantly inflated. Shares fell to $17 on Einhorn's news but have since rebounded to $28. This will be interesting to watch unfold.

Activist or Not
Upscale fashion retailer J. Crew (NYSE:JCG) is back in the spotlight. A few months ago, the company approved a sale to an investment consortium for $3 billion or $43.50 a share. However, Mason Capital, owner of 6.5% of the shares, is asking directors to oppose the deal. J. Crew traded for as high as $51 in the past year. Today shares trade slightly above the $43.50, a potential signal that the market may feel a better price is warranted.

Patriot Financial increased its stake in First United Bancorp (Nasdaq:FUBC) to 7.6%. First United is a regional bank out of Florida with a $160 million market cap. Shares trade at a slight discount to book value and generate a decent return on assets of 0.78%. Patriot paid up to $6.88 for its most recent purchases and shares today trade for $6.45. (For more, see Book Value: How Reliable Is It For Investors?)

Gamco Investors bought another million shares of industrial goods company Griffon (NYSE:GFF), a nice addition to its existing 8 million share stake. Griffon is a $800 million company that is the largest manufacturer of residential garage doors. In addition, the company is a provider of garden tools, specialty plastic films, and communication systems for military and commercial markets. The company reported a small loss in its most recent quarter. Shares trade for 13 times forward earnings.

Bottom Line
All investors are out to make money but that's not a guarantee even when investors go active or file 13D statements disclosing 5% or greater positions. For some investment funds, such 5% stakes represent a small stake in the overall fund and are often part of a diversification strategy. (For related reading, see Activist Hedge Funds: Follow The Trail To Profit.)

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