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S&P chief resigns; hedge fund seeks parent split

S&P chief resigns; hedge fund seeks parent split

August 23rd, 2011 in News

NEW YORK (AP) - The president of Standard & Poor's is stepping down just weeks after the rating agency stripped the United States of its AAA credit rating. At the same time, an activist hedge fund is calling for S&P's parent to break into four separate companies to unlock more value for shareholders.

McGraw-Hill Cos., S&P's parent, said that the resignation of Deven Sharma was not related to Jana Partners' break-up proposal or to S&P's polarizing decision to downgrade its rating on U.S. debt. McGraw-Hill named Citibank's chief operating officer, Douglas Peterson, to the S&P job late Monday.

Jana Partners, which had also called for new leadership at S&P, issued a terse response Tuesday to Peterson's appointment. "Recognizing the need for help at S&P will be useful," the firm said in a statement, "but to address years of chronic underperformance for its shareholders McGraw-Hill will need to take much bolder steps."

Representatives from Jana Partners and the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, which together own more than 5 percent of McGraw-Hill's shares, presented a 26-slide presentation to McGraw-Hill leaders on Monday.

In the presentation, they said McGraw-Hill should separate into four public companies: the education division, which provides testing and other materials for schools and colleges; the information and media division, which includes the Platts energy analysis unit and the J.D. Power rankings; the financial division, which includes research firm Capital IQ and credit and equity research; and the S&P ratings division.

Jana Partners said that grouping the four businesses together is inefficient and results in heavy overhead costs. For example, the education division, where revenue is falling as school districts suffer from squeezed budgets, takes away from other units where revenue is growing, the firm said.

"Each business has unique strengths and challenges. The question is: What is McGraw-Hill's logic for keeping any of these businesses together?" the firm said in its presentation.

On Aug. 5, S&P decided to downgrade its rating on U.S. debt, a move that has been both praised and criticized. Jana Partners on Monday said "the recent regulatory and political scrutiny" surrounding S&P "highlights the drawbacks of housing wholly unrelated businesses together and the risks of further delay on addressing this issue."

McGraw-Hill pointed out that it has already made changes meant to bolster the company's value, including plans to sell the broadcast division and buying two businesses to complement Platts. On Tuesday it said it had engaged outside advisers, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Evercore Partners, to help it further review its portfolio.