By Michael Flaherty and Siddharth Cavale
(Reuters) - Procter & Gamble Co <PG.N>, maker of Tide detergent and Gillette razors, will face ever greater pressure to slice costs and slow-growing divisions now that activist investor Trian Partners is a major shareholder.
P&G's shares hit a two-year high on Wednesday after Trian disclosed a stake in the consumer products company, which is already trying to slim down by selling unprofitable brands. A person familiar with the matter told Reuters that Trian currently holds more than $3 billion of P&G's stock.
Trian has a track record of pressuring large consumer companies to break up, a history investors and analysts are seizing on with the fund's newest investment.
But Trian has yet to publish a white paper, and the firm's exact plan remains to be seen. In addition to breaking P&G into separate companies, analysts speculated that Trian could press for more brand divestitures and heavy-handed cost overhauls.
"Absent a two- or three-way breakup, we suppose Peltz could also call for a 3G-like attack on the company's cost structure," said Don Bilson, director of research at Gordon Haskett, which tracks M&A and activism.
Bilson was referring to 3G Capital, a private equity firm that embraces a hard-core cost cutting strategy known as zero-based budgeting.
Cincinnati-based P&G is a $225 billion behemoth, selling brands such as Crest toothpaste to consumers across the globe.
Bernstein Research said in January 2016 it conducted a survey of P&G's institutional investors and found that two-thirds favored a break-up.
A break-up could result in the beauty, grooming and healthcare division becoming one company, with P&G separating out everything else, such as its laundry and diaper units, Bernstein said in the report.
Regardless of whether it wants a break-up, Trian is expected to pressure P&G to keep reducing costs while increasing revenues, a mantra it presses all of its companies to embrace.
P&G has been selling off unprofitable brands, including 41 beauty brands to Coty Inc <COTY.N>, and focusing on core brands such as Tide, Pampers and Gillette to revive sluggish sales.
However, those efforts have failed to boost its stock much beyond where it traded two years ago.
Braun, Clearblue, Bounty and Charmin are other brands that Trian could press to be sold, bankers said on Tuesday.
P&G's annual meeting is not until October and its deadline to nominate directors expires in June, meaning the company and Trian have several months to negotiate whether or not to give the investor board representation or take the matter to a shareholder vote.
P&G's shares were up 3.7 percent at $91.12. The stock was the biggest boost to the Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> on Wednesday but has lagged peers and the S&P 500 index during the past three years.
Trian, founded in 2005 by Nelson Peltz, Ed Garden and Peter May, focuses mainly on consumer brand companies, industrial firms and financial companies. The firm has $14 billion in assets under management.
Trian said in a filing on Tuesday that it held 6.4 million shares, worth $556.8 million as of Dec. 31 of last year. That position has grown to more than $3 billion as of Tuesday, the person familiar with the matter told Reuters, which would make Trian a top 10 shareholder.
Trian pressured PepsiCo Inc <PEP.N> to spin off its beverage business from its snacks division, a campaign that the company never heeded though it did hand the investor a board seat in 2015 to make peace.
In 2012, under pressure from Trian, Kraft spun off its North American grocery business and its global snack division to become Mondelez International, the maker of Oreos, Cadbury chocolate and Wheat Thins.
Trian and P&G declined to comment on Wednesday.
"We see Trian's P&G stake as late in the company's turnaround process," RBC Capital markets analyst Nik Modi wrote.
Modi said Chief Executive David Taylor is appropriately managing the business and targeting the three major buckets that Trian could address: portfolio alignment, cost and revenues.
(Additional reporting by Sruthi Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru and Martinne Geller in London; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Meredith Mazzilli)