Desjardins complex

Montreal-based asset manager Fiera Capital Corp. is on the verge of losing a long-standing shareholder.

Desjardins Financial Holding Inc., an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of the Fédération des caisses Desjardins du Québec, informed Fiera Capital on Tuesday that it intends to sell all of its shares in Fiera Capital L.P. and Fiera Holdings Inc.

The shares held by Desjardins are in a capital structure different from the rest of the shareholder base. The provisions of this structure give Fiera the right to make an initial offer to Desjardins.

Fiera Capital’s senior management is “currently considering making an offer, together with a financial partner, to acquire the offered securities from Desjardins,” the firm said in a release. “There can be no assurance that such transaction will materialize.”

As of April 23, the securities represent 6.8% of the total number of outstanding shares of Fiera Capital.

Chantal Corbeil, a spokesperson for Desjardins Group, declined to specify the cooperative’s reasons for selling its shares, but said in an emailed statement that Fiera Capital remains an important business partner. For example, Fiera manages funds for Desjardins.

“As investors, we only applied our investment strategy,” she said. “The sale of these shares does not call into question our business relationship with Fiera.”

Yasmine Sardouk, vice-president of corporate communications with Fiera Capital, reiterated in an interview that “the Desjardins transaction is really part of the realization of their investment strategy.”

She added, “Our business and commercial relationship with Desjardins remains intact.”

Securities analysts flagged concerns with the transaction.

“Our first impression is that this is bad news. A major long-term shareholder and partner of founder Jean-Guy Desjardins wants to sell,” wrote Graham Ryding, equities research analyst with TD Securities, in a research note.

Desjardins was an early partner of Fiera. In 2003, Desjardins sold its majority interest in Elantis to Jean-Guy Desjardins, which enabled him to relaunch his business after selling TAL Global Asset Management to CIBC.

Ryding estimated the value of Desjardins’ stake at $55 million.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Geoffrey Kwan also took a dim view of the divestment, questioning whether it would affect the funds Fiera manages on behalf of the Quebec cooperative.

The transaction could have consequences for Fiera’s senior management’s control over the company, Kwan added. The capital structure in which Desjardins’ shares are held holds Class B shares with founder Jean-Guy Desjardins and members of Fiera’s senior management.

Class A and B shares have the same voting weight, except for the election of directors. Class A shareholders elect one-third of the nine directors, while Class B shareholders elect two-thirds.

Fiera’s stock has lost nearly half its value since 2017. The departure of star portfolio manager Nadim Riz in 2021 raised concerns among investors who feared an exodus of customers.

Fiera Capital’s assets under management were approximately $164.2 billion as of June 30, 2023.