FirstGroup Plc (FGP) is a leading diversified transport operator and provider of transport services across the UK and North America. The company procures, maintains and operates around 50,000 vehicles to operate hundreds of networks in partnerships with national governments, state and local authorities, school boards and universities. The group has a competitive advantage as a result of its scale and the diversity of its portfolio of businesses, and each of its businesses has a market-leading position in a sector and contributes to the economic growth.
On Tuesday, the UK transport company hit out at the activist shareholder, Coast Capital Management, which proposed the appointment of new chief executive, overhauling the Board and exiting the rail business. The company said that in a requisition notice by the activist shareholder received on May 17th, 2019, Coast Capital demanded a general meeting to appoint seven of Coast Capital's nominees by removing six of the current Directors. The company rejected the demands of the fund, saying they were not in the company's best interests and called Coast Capital Management an opportunistic, self-interested player that is only focused on short-term gains.
Nonetheless, the transport company granted Coast, which owns 10 per cent of FirstGroup's shares, the extraordinary general meeting it had requested. However, the Board unanimously recommended voting against all of the Coast Capital resolutions, describing its plans as naive and vague assertions with no specific details around execution. While the company's management stood its ground on the raft of changes proposed by Coast Capital, of late it has bowed to investor pressure and has agreed to spin off its UK First Bus business and put its iconic North American bus line Greyhound for sale. However, the management claimed that the radical overhaul of the company's structures had nothing to do with the pressure from Coast.
The Aberdeen-headquartered transport giant said it would instead focus on First Transit, a North American bus company, and First Student, the biggest provider of school transportation in the US with a fleet of 42,000 buses. The plans were criticised as half-baked by Chad Tappendorf, a partner at the New York-based hedge fund, who also pointed to the Board's lack of experience in the US market.
The company said that Coast proposes to appoint to the Board directors whose experience is not aligned to its business nor its future growth and has put forward irresponsible plans that would leave the group with higher debt. It also reaffirmed its confidence in the current Board and said that the Board has the right experience and plans in place to deliver shareholder value. The company further noted that Coast Capital has no track record or experience for running any business similar to the FirstGroup and its proposed directors have limited recent experience in the business which the company operates and no experience in the North American transport contracting market.
FirstGroup Chief Executive Matthew Gregory said that the fund aims to seize control of the company without paying a premium and is attacking the same strategy which it criticises. For the year to March 31st, the group reported that it had narrowed its pre-tax loss to £98 million against a pre-tax loss of £327 million reported a year ago.
Share Price Commentary
Daily Chart as at June-04-19, before the market closed (Source: Thomson Reuters)
On June 4th
, 2019, at the time of writing (before the market closed, GMT 02:50 pm), FGP shares were trading at GBX 109.70, down by 0.27 per cent against the previous day closing price. Stock's 52 weeks High and Low is GBX 125.00/GBX 77.95. Total outstanding market capitalisation was £1.33 billion.