Retail shareholders are throwing their support behind BHP activists seeking change

Protestors at the entrance to Vale headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, following the Samarco mining disaster, a project jointly owned by BHP Billiton. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Almost half the retail shareholders in BHP Billiton, which is facing calls for reform by two institutional investors, want the miner to change its structure and operations.

The findings on BHP came from special questions tagged on to the end of the annual shareholder survey conducted by Global Proxy Solicitation (GPS) and the Melbourne Institute. The survey carries greater significance because fund managers and BHP investors Elliott Associates and Tribeca Investment Partners are agitating separately for changes in structure for the world’s largest miner.

About 48% of shareholders surveyed said they agreed that major changes to the company’s operations and structure are needed to create greater value. Just over 15% said they did not agree with the calls by Elliott, while 38% were uncertain.

“We’re seeing a clear turning point in the attitude of retail shareholders who are usually very loyal to an incumbent Board and cynical of the motives of foreign activists,” GPS Director Andrew Thain said. “At this early stage of the process the survey results indicates that retail shareholders are prepared to give Elliot a hearing.”

Around 1,600 retail shareholders were asked specific questions on Elliott’s push to abandon BHP’s Australia-London dual listing and spin off US petroleum assets. They were also asked how effectively BHP chief executive Andrew Mackenzie had handled Elliott’s approach.

Here are the results of the survey

Elliott is calling for the US petroleum assets to be demerged, while Tribeca wants BHP to sell its US shale assets for about $US10 billion and refresh its board.

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