Activist Investor Urges Kao Corp Overhaul Amid Underperformance


Oasis Management urges Kao Corp to revamp strategy, sparking a 7.3% share price jump amid underperformance concerns.

By Alex P. Chase

4/3, 23:37 EDT

Key Takeaway

  • Oasis Management Co. criticizes Kao Corp.'s underperformance, urging a business overhaul for better marketing and distribution.
  • Oasis suggests Kao's focus on cosmetics and health segments could boost its stock by over 70%.
  • Following the activist's call, Kao shares surged 7.3%, despite challenges in the Chinese market and lagging behind the Topix index's gains.

Activist Pressure on Kao Corp

In a recent move that underscores the growing influence of activist investors in Japan, Oasis Management Co. has publicly called on Kao Corp., a prominent Japanese cosmetics and household products manufacturer, to overhaul its business strategy. Despite owning an "impressive stable of brands," Kao has been criticized for its lackluster performance in several key financial metrics, including sales growth, margins, return on equity, and stock performance. Oasis's critique points to a significant underutilization of Kao's potential, primarily attributed to the company's inadequate focus on marketing and distribution efforts.

Underperformance and Potential

Kao's financial and operational metrics have notably lagged behind its competitors, a concern that Oasis Management has brought to light. The activist investor argues that Kao's management has failed to capitalize on the company's brand value, leading to a stark underperformance in the market. With a call for a more focused approach on cosmetics and health and beauty segments, coupled with enhanced marketing strategies, Oasis believes Kao's stock could see a substantial rise, potentially exceeding a 70% increase from its recent levels.

Market Reaction and Challenges Ahead

Following Oasis's statement, Kao's shares experienced a notable surge, jumping as much as 7.3% in Tokyo trading, marking the most significant increase since November 9. This reaction indicates a market expectation for Kao to accelerate its efforts towards improving profitability and addressing its strategic shortcomings. However, the company's recent performance, particularly in the Chinese market, adds a layer of complexity to its path forward. Kao's cosmetics business has faced challenges in China, exacerbated by local reactions to environmental concerns, which have further dampened its financial outlook.

External Pressures and Investor Sentiment

The increasing activism in Japan, supported by government and institutional investor pressures, suggests a changing landscape for corporate governance in the region. Kao, with its shares rising only about 10% over the past year compared to the Topix index's 34% gain, finds itself at a critical juncture. The company's full-year operating income outlook, which fell short of analyst estimates, coupled with the specific challenges in the Chinese market, underscores the urgency for strategic realignment.