Ides Capital nominates directors at Safety Insurance, wants share buyback

BOSTON, Jan 18 (Reuters) – Activist investment firm Ides Capital Management has nominated two directors to the board of Safety Insurance Group (SAFT.O) and wants the company to buy back shares, cut costs and improve financial disclosure, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

New York-based Ides wrote to the Boston-based company’s board on Tuesday and said it was making the nominations public because its concerns about the lagging stock price and its proposals for changes had been largely ignored over the last months.

“The Board’s overarching failure to be responsive, the repeated lack of both preparation and willingness to engage, the absence of candor and the pre-arranged press release all indicate that the Board had no intention of constructive engagement,” the letter said.

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A representative for Safety Insurance was not immediately available to comment.

Last week, Safety Insurance, which has a market capitalization of $1.3 billion, announced governance changes that include expanding its board by one person to seven members, appointing a lead independent director and appointing a new chair to its nominating and governance committee.

The company, which specializes in property and casualty insurance in Massachusetts, did not identify the people who would take up those roles.

“The changes announced by Safety’s press release fall woefully short of what is required to put the Company on a better path forward,” Ides, which has owned a roughly 1% stake in Safety Insurance for about a year, wrote in the letter.

In early December, Ides nominated insurance industry executives Olga Kondrashova and Farooq Sheikh to Safety Insurance’s board, according to the letter.

The hedge fund laid out its criticisms in Tuesday’s letter and called on Safety Insurance to buy back 10% of its shares and continue those repurchases over time, start the process of having all directors stand for election every year, and improve its proxy advisor audit scores.

It also insisted that Safety Insurance hold quarterly earnings calls, something most publicly traded companies do routinely.

Safety Insurance’s stock price has climbed 14% in the last 52 weeks but still has lagged the benchmark SPDR S&P Insurance ETF, which gained 25%. Over the last three years, the company’s share price gained 22% while the benchmark climbed 49%.

Ides was co-founded by Dianne McKeever and Rob Longnecker in 2015, and won success when it pushed companies like Arcosa Inc (ACA.N) and Boingo Wireless to diversify their boards. McKeever is the chief investment officer at Ides.

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Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss
Editing by Paul Simao

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