A pair of activist shareholders has taken a significant stake in Williams Cos. Inc., driving up the company's share price, as the partners pursue a plan to improve the midstream company's performance and potentially put it in play in the current environment of ongoing midstream consolidation.

Corvex Management LP and Soroban Capital Partners LLC said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Monday that they have acquired 8.82% of Williams outstanding shares and are "seeking to advise, change or influence management of" Tulsa, Ok-based Williams.

Williams shares closed up 4.25% at $36.83 Tuesday after reaching an intraday high of $37.33 in heavy trading. During the last 52 weeks Williams has traded as low as $31.25 and as high as $38.57.

The two hedge funds said in the filing that they believe Williams "has a strong competitive position in an attractive industry with tremendous growth opportunities but recent operational and financial missteps have prevented the issuer's shares from reflecting full value." They said they have had talks with Williams management and its board related to operations, finance, strategy and governance and will seek to continue these as well as engage in talks with other shareholders.

The goals of the talks, according to the filing, are to be:

  • Enhancing the structure of Williams' investments and assets;
  • Evaluating and financing of capital projects;
  • Optimizing capital structure and dividend policy;
  • Improving the operational and financial execution; and
  • The "potential for participating in strategic combinations given the rapid pace of consolidation in the midstream energy industry."

New York-based Hedge fund Corvex is run by Keith Meister. Hedge fund Soroban, also New York-based, is run by Eric Mandelblatt. Both Meister and Mandelblatt are seeking seats on the Williams board. They said in their filing that they "believe their industry knowledge and expertise will assist the issuer in capturing the full scale of the significant value-creation opportunity that lies ahead and their appointment would materially enhance shareholder ownership on the board."

Williams said in a statement that its board and management “are committed to creating value, and we welcome input from all shareholders. The company has had an ongoing dialogue with its shareholders, including Corvex and Soroban. We look forward to continuing these discussions as we execute on our long-term plan."

Activist investors have been targeting midstream companies and assets of late as the sector is in the midst of a shale-inspired building frenzy to put pipe in the ground and construct processing plants and other infrastructure.

QEP Resources Inc. recently said it would separate its midstream business at the behest of an activist shareholder (see Daily GPI, Dec. 2). Activist Sandell Asset Management has been pressing for a new strategy for DCP Midstream LLC (see Daily GPI, Oct. 28).

Meanwhile, a number of noteworthy midstream deals have taken place this year. Devon Energy Corp. and Crosstex Energy Inc. recently announced a midstream partnership (see Shale Daily, Oct. 21). In March, CenterPoint Energy Inc., OGE Energy Corp. and ArcLight Capital Partners announced a new midstream master limited partnership that will start off with 8,400 miles of interstate and 2,300 miles of intrastate pipelines (see Daily GPI, March 18).