Hedge fund faces challenge in Tim Hortons shakeup bid

Wed May 1, 2013 5:40pm EDT
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By Euan Rocha and Jessica Toonkel

TORONTO/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Highfields Capital, a U.S. hedge fund agitating for change at Tim Hortons Inc, may have a hard time convincing institutional investors that the chain that says it sells eight out of every 10 cups of coffee in Canada needs a wake-up call.

The Boston-based activist investor, with an about 4 percent stake in the company, wants Tim Hortons to boost shareholder returns by taking on new debt to buy back its stock.

It is also pushing Tim Hortons to scale back its U.S. expansion and focus more closely on its thriving Canadian business. The fund, which also outlined a second tier list of demands, wants Tims to spin off or sell its distribution business, create a real estate investment trust to house its property assets and bring in new directors with more financial experience.

On Wednesday, Highfields confirmed an earlier exclusive Reuters report about the proposals, and said it currently owns 6.1 million shares of Tim Hortons. The fund said the company is studying its proposals and it looks forward to continuing a dialogue with Tim Hortons.

But the proposals may not be so easy to sell to long-term investors, according to some money managers and investors.

"This business ain't broke and needs no fixin'," said Barry Schwartz, a portfolio manager at Baskin Financial, which owns roughly 130,000 shares in Tim Hortons, according to Thomson Reuters data.

"The company is shareholder-friendly and has rewarded long-term investors with rising dividends and share buybacks, plus the stock performance since the IPO has been terrific," he said.

The shares have more than doubled in value since an IPO in March 2006, when Wendy's Co spun off Tim Hortons.   Continued...

Tim Hortons Inc interim Chief Executive Paul House poses for a portrait at a Tim Hortons coffee shop in Toronto in this July 12, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Mark Blinch/Files