Activist investors circle Juniper Networks
Pressure is intensifying on Juniper Networks, as more investors are demanding the maker of routing, switching and security equipment adopt a turnaround plan put forward by Paul Singer's Elliott Management.
The $23 billion hedge fund disclosed last month that it has taken a 6 percent stake in Juniper and is demanding the company reduce operating costs, initiate a $3.5 billion share buyback and review unprofitable divisions. Elliott also says it will put forward a slate of new directors for the company's board by Feb. 23, if Juniper doesn't acquiesce to the turnaround plan.
Elliott says it has received widespread support from other shareholders.
"It's a well-constructed plan. In broad terms, we agree with the majority of the plan. Elliott took into account what investors had been asking from Juniper," said Jay Welles, a senior analyst at Manning & Napier, which owns 5 percent of Juniper's shares.
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Juniper is working on its own "integrated operating plan," according to company spokeswoman Cindy Ta. She said Juniper's plan will be ready "in the coming weeks," but would not give an exact date.
At least one analyst thinks Juniper will acquiesce to some of Elliott's demands, but it remains to be seen whether that will satisfy the fund.
In a note, Michael Genovese of MKM Partners said he expects Juniper to meet Elliott Management "half way." Genovese thinks Juniper will agree to cut $200 million in operating costs, offer a $1 billion buyback, and possibly offer a dividend.
But from every indication, Elliott isn't going to go along with "half way," and another big investor in Juniper feels the same way.
Sources close to Jana Partners, which also holds 6 percent of Juniper's shares, say they also are "not interested in half measures."
Juniper's stock has lagged the overall tech sector. Since going public in 1999, Juniper shares are up just 12 percent, while over that same period the Nasdaq gained more than 75 percent. But since Singer has gotten vocal about Juniper, shares have been on the move. Over the past three months, Juniper shares are up over 45 percent, including a 20-percent rise this year.
Elliott Management attributes Juniper's lackluster stock performance to a weak M&A strategy and poor strategic decisions in new markets.
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In January, Juniper named Shaygan Kheradpir its new CEO and he has indicated some support for Elliott Management's proposal. Kheradpir recently met with investors in New York and Boston and has not voiced a hostile rejection to Singer's proposal for making big changes at Juniper.
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Elliott has also toned down the rhetoric and said it prefers to "work collaboratively" with Juniper's management. Sources close to Elliott told CNBC "it's now up to the company and we expect to hear from them in the next week or so."
—By CNBC's Josh Lipton and Mark Berniker.