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Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change

Activist unveils bank investment

Cliff Robbins, founder Blue Harbor Group
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Activist investor Clifton Robbins thinks buying stock in Investors Bancorp is a near-sure way to make money.

"This is one of the best risk return investments I've seen," the CEO of hedge fund Blue Harbour Group said Monday at the 13D Monitor Active-Passive Investor Summit in New York.

Blue Harbour is a $3.7 billion hedge fund firm that focuses on friendly collaboration with the companies it invests in, unlike some of its more confrontational activist peers.

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Robbins, a former partner at major private equity firms KKR and General Atlantic, said that the Short Hills, New Jersey-based Investors Bancorp is misunderstood because of its relatively complicated structure as a "mutual holding company" and large cash reserves.

Robbins said the New York-area bank has grown significantly over the last 10 years under a strong management team and has accumulated about $2 billion in cash. He called its balance sheet a "fortress."

He recommended the bank use that excess capital to do stock buybacks and increase dividends, benefiting shareholders and, later, acquire other businesses to grow. Once the money is spent, Robbins said, the bank will still have a valuation similar to its peers.

Robbins also said the bank could be an attractive acquisition target itself, another way the stock price could shoot up. He said the stock, which currently trades at nearly $12 a share, could be worth $19.25 by 2019. Blue Harbour owns 7.8 percent of the stock, which is a new position and was publicly disclosed for the first time Monday.

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"This is a company that has done well and we think is going to do particularly well in the next three or so years," Robbins said.

The stock rose more than 1 percent in afternoon trading.

A spokesman for the bank did not immediately respond to a request for comment.