Activist investor Elliott Investment Management seeking changes at Suncor Energy


One of North America’s most aggressive activist investors has set its sights on Suncor Energy Inc., seeking an overhaul of the company’s board and management team, along with the possible sale of Petro-Canada.

In a letter to Suncor’s board on Thursday, U.S.-based Elliott Investment Management expressed frustration in what it said is a recent decline in performance at the energy producer.

“It is evident that Suncor’s status quo is not working,” Elliott partner John Pike and portfolio manager Mike Tomkins wrote in their letter.

“Shareholders have seen their investment lag behind nearly all large-cap North American oil and gas companies, as Suncor’s share price has remained virtually unchanged since early 2019, even as oil prices have climbed to their highest level in almost a decade.”

Elliott holds a 3.4 per cent economic interest including shares and cash-settled derivatives contracts in the Calgary-based company.

In its letter, Elliott laid out its proposal for Suncor, which includes adding five new independent directors to the company’s board and then undertaking a strategic review of Suncor’s executive management team, including CEO Mark Little.

It also wants Suncor to explore opportunities to “unlock the value” outside of its core oilsands business. Possibilities could include the potential sale or spinoff of Suncor’s Petro-Canada 1,800-location retail network.

Elliot Investment Management is a well-known activist investor with approximately US$51.5 billion of assets under management. It has previously targeted large corporations like AT&T, Hyundai, and Softbank.

In their letter, Pike and Tomkins said they looked forward to engaging with the board, along with their fellow shareholders, and hoped to meet with the board as soon as possible.

Suncor, which was the most valuable Canadian energy company by market capitalization from 2000 until 2018, has been in a slump recently. Elliott’s letter points out the company’s share price has lagged that of its closest oilsands peer, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., by 137 per cent over the last three years.

Plagued by operational difficulties, safety concerns

The company has also been plagued by a recent spate of operational difficulties — missing its corporate production guidance due to equipment failure and cold weather— as well as significant workplace safety concerns. Since 2014, there have been 12 workplace deaths at Suncor sites, which Elliott said is more than all of the company’s closest peers combined.

In February, Little publicly addressed Suncor’s safety challenges, telling analysts on a conference call that a truck crash that resulted in the death of a contractor was “unacceptable.”

He said the company recently completed an independent review of safety at its oilsands mines, including a focus on the safety of contract workers.

The company also said it had plans to implement collision avoidance and fatigue management technology across all of its mobile mine equipment.

Suncor’s share price was up $3.96, or 9.4 per cent, to $46.11 in early afternoon trading Thursday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Elliott said it believes its proposal for Suncor could result in a share price of $60 or higher, a roughly 50 per cent increase in shareholder value.

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