Payments giant Worldline faces discontent from Harris Associates, its second largest shareholder

In general, large asset managers cultivate discretion. They never disclose the conversations they have separately with the companies in which they are invested. Except when they get impatient. This is clearly the case of Harris Associates, the second largest shareholder of Worldline, which claims 9.5% of its capital, ahead of Crédit Agricole (7%) or Bpifrance (4.5%), but behind SIX Group, operator of the Swiss Stock Exchange (10.5%).

While the French payments giant has been targeted since December 2023 by the British activist fund Bluebell Capital Partners, the Chicago firm, which manages more than 100 billion dollars (93 billion euros) in assets, supports this campaign in an interview with World.

“The activist fund is right when it says a sense of urgency is needed. I think Worldline is aware that changes need to happen, but it needs to act faster”, instructs David Herro, partner who manages Harris Associates internships outside the United States. And to add: “I’ve been doing this for over thirty years, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a stock price plunge by nearly 60% in one day. This shows a loss of market confidence. »

“A cost base too high”

Worldline, which presents its annual accounts on February 28, is struggling to escape the zone of turbulence into which it entered on October 25, 2023, the day when its share price collapsed and nearly 4 billion euros of market capitalization were lost. are soaring, after the publication of results for the third quarter full of bad news.

Faced with a “deterioration of consumption trends”notably in Germany, the group which employs 18,000 employees announced, on February 7, a transformation plan that could lead to “a reduction in overall efficiency of around 8% at most”. “That’s part of what needs to be done. Worldline has made many acquisitions in the past and is operating with too high a cost base after taking time to integrate these operations”comments Mr. Herro.

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But the manager is firmly awaiting further announcements. First, that of the appointment of a new president, after the death of Bernard Bourigeaud, on December 14, 2023. “It’s more important to find the right person than to rush”, tempers, however, Mr. Herro. “The search for a new president was launched at the beginning of January. A mandate was given to the Egon Zehnder firm. The four shortlisted candidates are expected to be interviewed soon by the appointments committee. A new president should be chosen in the second half of March »precise to World Georges Pauget, lead director of Worldline and interim president since December 15.

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