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Juniper Networks Under Investor Pressure To Change Course

Juniper Networks Under Investor Pressure To Change Course
By Barry Levine

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The proposals for Juniper Networks by Elliott Management would cut costs by $200 million a year, in part by reducing spending so that it would be more aligned with what the investment fund said were industry norms. These include trimming R&D, lowering engineers' compensation and re-examining investment in security and switching, where profits are lower.
 



Juniper Networks could be making changes in -- or even sell -- its security and switching units, if it agrees to changes being demanded by a key investor. Hedge fund Elliott Management Corp. is asking Juniper, the industry's second-largest maker of computing networking equipment after Cisco, to make the changes in order to boost its share price and "unlock significant value."

The requests for a change of direction at Juniper were made in a 27-page presentation issued by Elliott on Monday, which pointed to new directions involving cost realignment, capital return and product portfolio optimization. The presentation, also filed with regulators, described Juniper's performance as lacking compared with other tech competitors, and said that its shareholders "are significantly frustrated."

The proposals would cut costs by $200 million a year, in part by reducing spending so that it would be more aligned with what the investment fund said are industry norms. These include trimming R&D investment, and lowering engineers' compensation to levels that Elliott contended is more in line with packages paid by Juniper's competitors.

More than $3 Billion in Cash

Elliott, which owns 6.2 percent of Juniper's common stock, said Juniper's stock is undervalued, and could be worth as much as $40 a share. On Monday afternoon, Juniper shares sold for $25.53, an 8 percent increase over Friday's prices.

The fund is also calling on Juniper to buy back as much as $3.5 billion of its shares and to pay a dividend, which the company has never done in its nearly two decades of existence.

Elliott pointed out that Juniper has more than $3 billion in cash, and said Juniper is keeping more cash on hand as a percentage of its market capitalization than even the cash-hoarding Apple. The fund is also asking Juniper to re-examine its activities in security and switching, including the possibility of selling those businesses. The third-quarter report in the fall found that revenue growth was dropping for Juniper in switches and revenue totals were falling in security software.

New CEO

A new CEO, ex-Barclays executive Shaygan Kheradpir, joined Juniper at the beginning of the year. Spending for research and development, which Ellliott is seeking to trim, was a key emphasis of Kheradpir's predecessor as CEO, former Microsoft executive Kevin Johnson. Additionally, there are some board nominations coming up later this month, and those positions, when filled, could also tilt the direction of the company.

For its part, Juniper has issued a statement that it "welcomes the opinions and insights of its shareholders," adding that it is "open to constructive input towards the goal of enhancing shareholder value."

Last week, Elliott Management made an offer to buy computer network company Riverbed Technology, in which Elliott already had a small stake. Shortly after Elliott's proposal, the Riverbed board approved a plan that would prevent any single investor from buying more than 10 percent of the company. In 2013, Elliott was part of a group that acquired BMC Software for nearly $7 billion.
 

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