Another week, another new Audi. Two new Audis, in fact. The German car maker has announced a couple more additions to its Q line up of SUVs. The Q4 is a coupe-SUV hybrid that will go up against the BMW X4 and Mercedes GLC Coupe. As its name suggests, it’ll be positioned between the compact Q3 and bigger Q5. At the other end of the scale is the Q8, which will go head to head against the Range Rover. It’s lower and sleeker than the Q7 Audi is also producing. In concept form, it sat only four people, although it seems likely the production version will be a five seater. There’s a 630 litre boot as well. Eagle eyed Audi followers will notice the only SUV slots left to fill are the Q1 and Q6. Watch this space...
The chief executive of Alliance Trust came out fighting on Thursday after the under-pressure investment house was dealt another blow by a major shareholder advisory group. The FTSE-listed business is engaged in a bitter public battle with its largest single shareholder Elliott Advisors over its move to force boardroom change at the Dundee-based institution. The trust was on the receiving end of another bruising encounter on Thursday after advisory body Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) backed Elliott’s proposal to elect three new independent non-executive directors to the board. The addition of three candidates like Peter Chambers, with extensive management experience, Rory Macnamara, with extensive board and investment banking experience, and Anthony Brooke, with asset management and investment banking experience, would be beneficial for the company,” ISS said in its statement. The move came as chief executive Katherine Garrett-Cox questioned Elliott’s motivation in making an annual general meeting requisition and said the situation ultimately came down to who shareholders trusted with their cash. “What Elliott have consistently asked for is a very large tender at a narrow discount and, by inference, that means the Trust would look completely different at the end of that exercise,” the chief executive said. “You can’t just take 40% out of the capital of the trust and expect it to look the same. “What else is clear to me is that they have a strong view that they see very little value in the subsidiaries, which is obviously something we disagree with.” In their correspondence with shareholders, Elliot has raised issues relating to corporate governance, the trust’s cost base and its investment performance. However, Ms Garrett-Cox said the board was confident but not complacent about its strategy. She cited changes made last year in the way the equities portfolio was managed as evidence the trust was willing to take major decisions when necessary. But she also said the group’s 48-year record of annual dividend increases showed its ability to deliver a strong investment performance over an extended period. Ms Garrett-Cox said Elliott, which has built a 12% position in the trust over the past five years, were looking for a swift return on their investment while other shareholders were much more long-term in their outlook. “It is fair to say that we have made some changes and put some stretching targets into place, many of which were publicised,” Ms Garrett-Cox said. “But ultimately, it depends on your time frame. “If you want something quickly, as Elliott do, then you do things very differently. “For the vast majority of our shareholders, the dividend is one of the reasons they hold Alliance Trust. “That will put them at odds with Elliott who, in meetings, have told me that dividends are a waste of time. “It is difficult to square that circle.” The Courier contacted Elliott last night but the hedge fund declined to comment. In a statement addressing the ISS interjection, a trust spokesman described the report as disappointing. “There seems to be a lack of consistency in the report, which makes it hard to see which time frames or comparator groups are being referred to,” the spokesman said. “There also appears to be a lack of understanding of the investment trust sector, including the industry guidelines on reporting of costs. “ISS is entitled to a view, but we hope that shareholders will reach their own informed decision taking full account of the reasons why our board has made its recommendation to vote against the proposed candidates.” Shares in Alliance Trust closed down 0.47% at 524p on Thursday.
Under-pressure investment house Alliance Trust came out fighting yesterday as its war of words with rebel investor Elliott intensified. The two sides are locked in a bitter battle over the future management of the Dundee-based Trust after Elliott called on fellow shareholders to back its proposal for the appointment of three new independent non-executive directors to the board. The hedge fund holds more than 12% of the issued capital of the Trust and is its single largest shareholder. It has called for change after voicing concerns about the Trust’s long-term under-performance, cost base and corporate governance under chief executive Katherine Garrett-Cox and chairman Karin Forseke. On Wednesday, Elliott issued a critical response to the Trust’s circular to shareholders last week in which they urged investors to vote down the change proposal. The Trust yesterday fought back with a new statement to the market of its own. The company said they did not intend restating all of their reasoning for urging shareholders to vote against the Elliott requisition, but had a “responsibility to correct and clarify some of the more misleading assertions” in Elliott’s most recent public missive. The Trust’s statement focused on four topics: investment performance, costs and corporate governance. On the first point, the Trust said total shareholder return the measure it believes is the most relevant performance metric for the majority of its shareholders was in the top half of its peer group “for the majority of time periods most commonly referred to by investment professionals”. On costs, Alliance again refuted Elliott’s allegation that its true cost base was higher than reported, and said its track record of dividend income was “important” to its shareholder base. On the latter point, the Trust again stated its belief that the nominees named in Elliott’s proposal for election to the board could not be judged as independent. However, it will begin a search for a new independent non-exec this summer. Individual shareholder society ShareSoc, which has previously sided with Elliott, weighed back into the debate yesterday saying the Trust’s rejection of the proposals “seemed unwise” and said requisitioning resolutions was “simple democracy”. It added: “We would have preferred to see a more considered and less hectoring response from Alliance.”
Dundee-based Alliance Trust has warned shareholders that plans by US hedge fund Elliott Advisors are at odds with the best interests of one of Britain’s oldest investment companies. In a circular in response to Elliott’s resolutions, the AT board states its belief that Elliott’s actions with proposals that are not just about nominating directors would be disruptive. The board believes the hedge fund is looking to exit its shareholding quickly as part of a risky plan to achieve better performance. The AT board considers Elliott’s proposed directors are not independent, and that the company’s strategy which consistently delivers strong shareholder returns should not be jeopardised. AT chairman Karin Forseke said shareholders should consider carefully the board’s circular and vote against Elliott’s resolutions. “This is about more than the nomination of directors, and Elliott has plans for disruptive actions that are at odds with the interests of other shareholders,” she said. The directors proposed by Elliott cannot be considered independent, she stated, and their addition would “allow Elliott to pursue its own agenda and engineer a quick exit from its shareholding”. AT has a rich history with bright prospects, and she added: “We are asking our investors to stand behind us, as they have before, to protect their company so we can continue to deploy our differentiated strategy and deliver strong returns for all shareholders for generations to come.” Elliott have publicly questioned the Trust’s recent investment performance and requisitioned a vote at next month’s annual general meeting in a bid to have the three new non-executive directors appointed.
Alliance Trust said its largest shareholder’s attempt to get three new directors on the board “potentially threatens the very existence of the company”. The Dundee-based investment trust urged shareholders to reject Elliott Advisors’ move, which it described as a damaging tender offer which concealed a dangerous agenda. The US hedge fund, which has a 12% stake in Alliance Trust, fired the first shot in the battle when it called for three new non-executive directors to be appointed to drive performance. AT responded that Anthony Brooke, Peter Chambers and Rory Macnamara cannot be considered independent as Elliott instructed the recruitment firm which found them. It called on shareholders to vote against Elliott’s resolutions. It believed Elliott was attempting to exert undue influence on the board and had a short-term agenda that was against the interests of long-term shareholders in the 126-year-old investment company. Elliott had repeatedly pressed the board to mount a tender offer to buy up to 40% of the shares in the £2.7 billion fund at a narrow discount to net asset value. With Alliance Trust shares trading 14% below NAV, this would represent a significant uplift to investors who sold out, but could be hugely disruptive to AT and its remaining shareholders. “The board considers that this type of action potentially threatens the very existence of the company, and rides roughshod over our long-term shareholders, our customers and our over 250 employees,” the trust said. It claimed Elliott was opposed to the trust making dividend payments which it has successfully grown for 48 years even though a rising investment income was important to shareholders and contributed significantly to their total return. AT said short-term shareholder returns had been in the top quartile since it switched to new managers with a sustainable investment policy six months ago. Over one and five years its returns were above the median of other global investment trusts. During Elliott’s four-year investment it had delivered a 66% total return compared to the 57% average in the global sector. Since Katherine Garrett-Cox took over as chief executive in 2008, AT had generated a 92% return for shareholders, well above the sector average of 76%. AT disputed the assertion that it had a bloated cost base, saying its ongoing annual charge had fallen to 0.6% last year from 0.75% in 2013, which again compared favourably with its rivals. Its subsidiary businesses, Alliance Trust Savings, and its fund arm Alliance Trust Investments were both doing well and provided long-term growth opportunities for shareholders. There had been regular dialogue with Elliott, and AT had considered strengthening the board with a new non-executive this year. AT chairman Karin Forseke said: “Elliott’s proposed resolutions are completely unacceptable. “The board believes that they are a precursor for further disruptive actions from Elliott which are likely to focus solely on engineering an exit from their shareholding and would not be in the interests of all of our shareholders.” Elliott’s move is the second of its type in three years. In 2012 Laxey Partners raised a resolution calling for the trust’s investment management to be outsourced, but the move was defeated. Meanwhile, Elliott was surprised and disappointed at Alliance Trust’s defence, believing the three new independent non-executive directors are men of “experience, integrity and independent thinking”. “We believe that this decision is indicative of a board that is out of touch with the concerns of its shareholders, and which needs fresh perspectives,” Elliott stated. The largest shareholder said it was puzzled as to how the AT board reached its conclusion without meeting or speaking with the candidates. Elliott had given the company prior notice of its intentions and stated its availability for discussions but said it did not receive a response. Elliott rejected AT’s questioning of the independence of three individuals. It went on to say that of the six independent non-executive directors appointed by AT since Elliott became shareholders, three have resigned ahead of serving a full three-year term, “which makes us question the effectiveness of the board’s own nomination process”. Elliott claimed AT’s statement in defence of its stewardship of the trust includes factually incorrect assertions about proposals which it claims Elliott made. “The proposed directors will, if elected, form their own view as to what is in the best interests of shareholders in a manner wholly independent of Elliott,” it stated. “We urge all shareholders who agree with Elliott’s view that Alliance Trust requires fresh impetus at the board level to make their views known to the company. “In the unfortunate event that the company does not reconsider, we urge all shareholders to vote for the resolutions electing Messrs Brooke, Chambers, and Macnamara to the board of our Alliance Trust,” it added.
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra have announced the appointment of Michael Elliott as their new chief executive, taking over from Simon Woods who departed in April. Elliot has been director of culture at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in London since June 2008, and was formally chief executive of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. He will take up is position with the orchestra on August 1. RSNO chairman Brian Lang, who led the appointment committee, said, "Michael's experience and knowledge of orchestral management and the wider cultural sector will be of great benefit to the RSNO. "He will join the team in good time for the start of Stephane Deneve's final season as musical director and will have the pleasure of working with incoming director Peter Oundjian. "Together, they will deliver artistic excellence for the people of Scotland." The new chief executive was delighted on his appointment. He said, "It is my aim to build on the recent successes of the musicians and staff under the leadership of Simon Woods and Stephane Deneve, and to see the RSNO playing a key role in Scottish society, cultural life and education." Elliott is also chairman of the board of governors at Wolverhampton University. A graduate of Sheffield University, he is married to June and has a son Peter and a daughter Chrissie. Image used under Creative Commons licence courtesy of Flickr user luza.
The fight for the future of the Dundee-based Alliance Trust has become a war of attrition. Rebel shareholder Elliott Advisors, which has raised concerns over costs, corporate governance and general underperformance by the Trust, has been uncharacteristically quiet in recent days. But a lack of public pronouncements should not be mistaken for a lack of action. They are a company with huge financial muscle and I know that strings are being pulled behind the scenes in an effort to muster support for its requisition to elect three new non-executive directors to the board. Again, and just as uncharacteristically, the Trust has hardly gone a day without making its view on Elliott’s challenge clear. For a company that has spent decades beavering away quietly in the background, this has been tantamount to a communications revolution. We’ve had individual videos released by chairman Karin Forseke and chief executive officer Katherine Garrett-Cox and that has been backed up by shareholder circulars, letters, press interviews and, no doubt, meetings with investors both big and small. When Laxey Partners made a similar requisition at the annual general meeting four years ago the trust adopted a “keep calm and carry on” attitude. They knew Laxey, which had less than a 1% holding, would enjoy their 15 minutes of fame but it was obvious they were confident their challenge would ultimately melt away. And that is exactly what happened when Laxey lost and later sold out its holding. But Elliott is a different proposition altogether and, as an outsider looking in, I sense a distinctly heightened nervousness this time round. I would still put money on the trust emerging from this crisis as victors, but I’m not sure I’d bet the house on it right now. Elliott has a track record of agitation and they are not accustomed to being denied their way. If you don’t believe me, just ask Argentina. The second largest economy in South America defaulted for the second time in 13 years last year after talks broke down with creditors. Among those creditors was NML Capital, a subsidiary of Elliott Management which was founded in 1979 by Paul Singer, whose net worth lists him among the global elite of billionaires. Many, and I include myself in this, simply concluded that Elliott’s motivation in its battle with Alliance was to turn a quick buck on their investment and move on. My reading of Elliott’s position was this buy at discount, push and prod to drive performance then exit as soon as the returns were healthy enough. To be honest, I thought that scenario would ultimately suit both sides. Elliott would have its cash and the Trust would have the monkey off its back. But Elliott has not stated what its intentions are post the annual general meeting vote on April 29. Should Elliott not get its way, will it simply keep (and possibly increase) its holding in Alliance and return to its grievances in 12 months’ time? If that should be the case then no wonder there is such nervousness in the air. A protracted period of uncertainty would do no one any favours.
Two soldiers who carried out a drunken attack on three people in Dundee city centre are said to be “ashamed” and “disgusted” by their conduct. Stephen Elliot, 18, and Dean Steven Stewart, 19, both serve with the Scots Guards. The sheriff court heard their convictions will result in disciplinary action once they return to their base at Catterick in Yorkshire. The pair, who were accompanied in court by an officer from the regiment, were appearing for sentence. Elliot, of Hatton Rigg Road, Glasgow, had admitted that on November 2 last year he assaulted Lisa Marie White by punching her on the head. He also admitted assaulting Thomas Kenneth by holding him over a fence and punching him on the head. Stewart, of Glenconnor Drive, Dundee, had admitted assaulting John Young, seizing him by the clothing, repeatedly punching him on the head and attempting to kick him on the head, all to his injury. Depute fiscal Eilidh Robertson told the court that Elliot, Stewart and a third soldier had been in Seagate shortly after midnight when they became involved in a verbal argument with another group. Ms White had been arguing with the third soldier when Elliot approached her from behind and punched her once in the head. A short distance away the violence flared again when Stewart walked over to Mr Young and punched him on the head. He then grabbed him and punched him again. Stewart then tried to kick Mr Young in the head, but failed to make contact. While this was going on Elliot pushed Mr Kenneth towards a fence and then punched him once in the face. An ambulance later took Mr Young to Ninewells Hospital, where he was kept in overnight. Elliot’s defence agent Paul Parker Smith told the court: “He was in Dundee for the weekend and he consumed a large amount of alcohol. “He is disgusted with himself, particularly in relation to charge one (assaulting Ms White). “If he could turn back the clock he would, but the best he can do is apologise.” Representing Stewart, Anika Jethwa said: “He is ashamed, embarrassed and expresses empathy for the victims. This will have serious consequences for his career. “He certainly seems to have learned from the experience he is a very chastened young man.” Elliot was fined £600 and ordered to pay £250 compensation to his victims and Stewart was fined £450 and ordered to pay £175 compensation on Thursday.
A selection of meteorites found across the globe by intrepid Fife collector Robert Elliott will be auctioned in Edinburgh on Tuesday. Mr Elliott, from Milton of Balgonie, is the owner of the UK’s largest private collection of space memorabilia, which was valued at around £1 million several years ago. The collection includes one of the only pieces in the west of the Russian meteorite Chelyabinsk, which made headlines earlier this year, and was smuggled out of Russia by Mr Elliott. Auctioneers said there had been particular interest from several Russian collectors, with the space rock expected to make around £300-£400. A total of 60 rocks from Mr Elliot’s collection are being sold next week and are expected to realise around £90,000. On February 15 a small asteroid entered the Earth’s atmosphere over Russia, with an estimated speed of 41,000 miles per hour. At around 50 times the speed of sound, a huge, brilliant fireball was formed, brighter than the sun and bright enough to cause moving shadows on the ground, as it tracked across the sky. Due to its enormous velocity, the meteor exploded many times over Chelyabinsk at a height of about 15 miles. The explosions ripped the meteor apart, reducing the massive object to thousands of pea-sized meteorites, which were lost in the snow in and around Deputatsky village. Some seconds after the explosions, the pressure wave reached the ground, causing damage to people and property. A high brick wall of a factory was knocked down and hundreds of windows were blown in, with up to 1,500 residents injured by flying glass. The event was captured on many car dashboard cameras and the videos quickly became worldwide news. Found just hours after the fall, this is one of the freshest Chelyabinsk meteorites available to collectors. Mr Elliott said: “The Russian government told the local residents that they would arrest anyone selling pieces of the meteorite overseas, so my contact had to disguise the airmail package and mix the meteorites with pieces of electronic equipment to hide them. “The package was still opened by Russian customs, and several meteorites were confiscated, but most of them made it through to me.” It is estimated that each year approximately 30 meteorites fall on British soil yet only 20 have ever been found, only four in Scotland. His collection consists of more than 90 items from space and, as one of the world’s leading meteorite experts, Mr Elliott has been responsible for identifying three significant finds the Glenrothes meteorite in Fife in July 1997; the Hambleton meteorite in North Yorkshire in 2005; and the remains of a meteorite which fell in a Perthshire field last year. “Perthshire is a hot spot,” Mr Elliott said. “My next hunting expedition will be centred there, although I will not say where.” Over the past six years he has sold parts of his cosmic collection in various stages, netting a total of around £500,000.
Alliance Trust today confirmed it had spent £3 million in its fight with rebel investor Elliott Advisors. The Dundee-headquartered firm said part of the seven-figure sum which represents around 15% of its total cost base for 2014 had been paid out on securing external professional advice in relation to the battle. Just 24 hours ahead of today’s AGM, Alliance Trust changed tack and agreed a deal with Elliott that will see two of the hedge fund’s nominees as new independent non-executive directors elected to the board. Chairman Karin Forseke told around 400 investors gathered at the general meeting at the Gardyne Theatre that the cost was one the business would rather not have borne. But she said the decision to agree a last-minute compromise deal had come after reflecting on feedback from shareholders following an extensive consultation exercise in the weeks since Elliott raised its requisition of the board last month. In answer to a question from the floor in which a shareholder likened the elevation of Elliott’s two nominees as akin to allowing “foxes to look after the hen house”, Ms Forseke said the important thing was the trust had a diversified board. Asked whether there was a chance of the trust moving to London, Ms Forseke said the firm was “dedicated” to maintaining its Dundee headquarters and had no plans to expand elsewhere. Elliott Advisors were represented at the meeting but made no comment. For more coverage of the AGM, see Thursday’s Courier or try our digital edition.