Riverbed suitor takes stake in Juniper

Elliott Management's 6.2% buy calls for cost cuts, dividend payouts

Activist investor Elliott Management, which last week made an unsolicited bid to buy Riverbed Technology, this week took a 6.2% stake in Juniper Networks.

The hedge fund is pushing Juniper to pay dividends to shareholders, buy back stock, and cut costs. Elliott believe these moves could raise Juniper’s stock price to $35 to $40 per share. It closed last Friday at $23.54.

Juniper said it “welcomes the opinions and insights of its shareholders and is always open to constructive input toward the goal of enhancing shareholder value."

Elliott suggests Juniper look to cut or divest its security and enterprise switching businesses. Juniper's security assets were reportedly on the block at one time, and the company has had execution issues in both security and switching in recent years.

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Elliott’s move comes after last week’s offer to buy Riverbed at $19 per share, or about $3 billion. The offer price represented a 6% premium on Riverbed stock at the time.

Riverbed said it would consider the offer.

Speculation was raised this week that Elliott might push for a merger between Riverbed and Juniper, which have complementary product lines. Juniper makes switches, routers and security appliances; Riverbed makes WAN optimization and application acceleration devices.

Juniper and Riverbed have a partnership for Juniper to license Riverbed’s Steelhead WAN optimization technology.

Juniper said it is reviewing Elliott's plan for the company, which was presented in a 13D filing, but has not yet had any discussions with the investor. The company expanded on its initial reaction to the Elliott proposal:

"Juniper continues to deliver improved financial and operational performance as evidenced by five consecutive quarters of year-over-year revenue growth and our continued efforts to streamline the Company's cost base. We have a proven record of generating and returning cash to shareholders having returned approximately 105% of Juniper's free cash flow to shareholders in the last three years (fourth quarter of 2010 through third quarter of 2013) representing a total return of approximately $1.7 billion. Juniper continues to focus on returning capital to our shareholders. We believe Juniper has an innovative and robust product portfolio and is well positioned to deliver enhanced shareholder value and we are optimistic about the growth opportunities in the key markets we serve."

Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 27 years, 22 at Network World. He also writes The Cisco Connection blog and can be reached on Twitter @Jim_Duffy.

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