Hedge fund Petrus seeks confrontation with Aareal Bank

The hedge fund is increasing the pressure on the real estate financier with counter-proposals for the supervisory board. His now named candidates are presentable and could also convince other shareholders.

The headquarters of Aareal Bank in Wiesbaden

Dhe power struggle between the board of directors and the supervisory board of the Wiesbaden-based Aareal Bank and the British-Austrian hedge fund Petrus Advisers is coming to a head. Not entirely unexpected, Petrus proposed three members of the supervisory board for election to the upcoming general meeting on May 18, to replace the chairwoman of the supervisory board Marija Korsch and the supervisory board members Christof von Dryander (formerly chief legal advisor of Deutsche Bank) and Dietrich Voigtländer (formerly chairman of the board of West LB). Thanks to his stake of shares of 9.4 percent, Petrus has this right to propose, although no elections have been on the agenda so far because all eight shareholders’ supervisory boards have been elected by 2023 or 2024.

With his counter-proposals, Petrus increases the pressure on Korsch and now wants to solicit the support of other shareholders for his candidates. In terms of content, Petrus is demanding, among other things, higher returns on equity of 8 to 10 percent after taxes from Aareal Bank, lower remuneration for the six-member management board and a sale of the IT subsidiary Aareon. Petrus tries to enforce these demands, which are shared by some observers, by exercising more control over the board of directors. This is happening at a time when the lending business of the real estate financier Aareal, which is not least focused on retail and hotels, is being subjected to a stress test during the corona pandemic. The Aareal Bank share had to go down from the M-Dax to the S-Dax in March.

Talk in profile

As the successor to the former Metzler partner Korsch, Petrus is now proposing the 67 year old Heinz Laber as the new chairman of the supervisory board. Until the end of 2017, Laber worked for Hypo-Vereinsbank and its predecessor institutes such as Bayerische Vereinsbank for forty years – twelve years of which as a member of the Management Board for Human Resources and IT. Laber joined the HVB Management Board shortly after the acquisition of Hypo-Vereinsbank (HVB) by the Italian company Unicredit, where he acquired the reputation of a manager who, with great nerves, skill and toughness, fought through staff cuts and IT migration. As head of HR, Laber was not uninvolved in 2006 when, for example, today’s UBS Germany boss Christine Novakovic (Licci) left the HVB board with a lot of headlines and was very rough. Marc Heß, who as CFO of Aareal Bank currently represents the sick CEO Hermann Merkens, was also working for HVB at von Laber’s time: Hess was responsible for investor relations there.


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To the detailed view

Born in Munich, Laber is currently chairman of the supervisory board of BVV, Germany’s largest pension fund with EUR 30 billion. With his profile, Laber seems to be a good fit for Petrus and his ideas. As another new member of the supervisory board, Petrus suggests the Austrian Marion Khüny, who sits on the Erste Group supervisory board and previously worked for Commerzbank, and the former Zurich and Swiss Re manager Thomas Christian Hürlimann.

A few days ago, Aareal Bank again rejected Petrus’ criticism. Korsch said she saw no reason to resign. Her contract runs until 2023. How the power struggle with Peter will end seems open.