As Bill Ackman Loses Activist Bid Against ADP, Does He Really Lose?

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Automatic Data Processing Inc. (NASDAQ: ADP) may have won a round of independence and shareholder goodwill on Tuesday. The massive payrolls and human resources outfit fended off a bid from activist Bill Ackman and his Pershing Square fund to nominate directors and to force action within the company.

Whether this is viewed as a victory likely will depend on how you feel about activist investors. Or maybe how you feel about Ackman himself. The initial reaction had the stock trading slightly lower on Tuesday.

According to CNBC, which hosted a long Ackman interview on Monday, the activist hedge fund manager lost his ADP board seat campaign badly, with less than 20% supporting him. CNBC’s David Faber also said that none of his nominees received 25% of the votes in the proxy.

ADP said in a press release that the preliminary vote count provided by its proxy solicitor re-elected all 10 of ADP’s directors.

CNBC further reported that two of ADPs largest shareholders, Vanguard and State Street, voted for ADP’s nominees. BlackRock voted for Ackman.

On top of the other matters, ADP released a press release showing that its board of directors approved a 10.5% ($0.06) increase in the quarterly cash dividend paid to shareholders. The new quarterly dividend rate of $0.63 per share compares with the previous quarterly dividend rate of $0.57, and the new annualized payout rate is now $2.52 per common share. ADP noted that this is the 43rd consecutive year in which the company has raised its quarterly dividend.

Some companies have gone on successfully defending themselves from activist investors after years of being pressured. Some activists want higher prices through changes to how a corporation conducts its business. Other activist efforts have been for higher dividends and buybacks — or even an outright sale.

Ackman was pressing for changes to how ADP conducts its business and management runs the company. There were even reports that he wanted ADP to acquire a private company to boost its weight in the market. This is generally much more pressure on a management team than merely increasing dividends and buybacks, even if it is pressed for with taking on debt.

ADP CEO Carlos Rodriguez has been in a public engagement against Ackman during the time that Pershing Square has been pursuing its efforts. Ackman publicly targeted a business that was being run very inefficiently and with many layers of management, and Rodriguez had basically said that Ackman’s points were from a spoiled brat and that he did not know what he was talking about.

Ackman told CNBC in his interview that he plans to hold his shares whether he wins or loses in his initial efforts. He also communicated that his efforts likely would be a win for shareholders whether or not he secured board seats.

Being an employer services a professional employer organization services provider is perhaps not an easy business. There are literally millions of employees that have to be kept up with for payrolls, tax witholding, insurance and retirement.

As far as how 2017 has turned out, ADP’s total return has been over 8% so far in 2017, and the stock is up about 25% from this time a year ago. Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 19% so far in 2017 and up over 31% from a year ago, while the S&P 500’s gain is almost 16% so far in 2017 and 24% from a year ago.

ADP shares opened down at $110.33 on Tuesday, a drop of 0.9% from the $111.33 close on Monday. On last look, ADP shares were down 31 cents at $111.02 on Tuesday after about an hour of trading.

ADP shares have a 52-week trading range of $87.58 to $121.77, and the Thomson Reuters consensus sell-side analyst price target is currently $18.33. ADP’s market cap is about $49 billion.