Aberdeen International Inc. (AAB.TO) Issues Confident Circular Before Proxy Battle

Is Ryan Morris of Meson Capital really ready to lead a premier mining investment firm like Aberdeen International?

The contention between Aberdeen International Inc. (AAB.TO) and Meson Capital Partners LLC, headed by thirty-year-old Ryan Morris, continues, with Aberdeen International raising the firepower on January 1st when it published a strong-toned circular to its shareholders in defense of its current leadership.

Despite the sour conditions the mining and precious metals market have faced over the past year, Aberdeen International, one of the prominent resource investment firms in Canada, has seen stronger returns in 2014, especially compared to Junior Gold Miner ETF averages.

As Aberdeen’s Circular highlights, the company’s stock enjoyed healthy performance in 2014, with the AAB stock having a 27.29% total shareholder return, compared to a return of -22.31% for the Junior Gold Miners ETF (GDXJ). See below comparison table.

As the Circular further highlights, Aberdeen’s stock in 2014 outperformed many of the company’s comparable peers, particularly in the last quarter of the year.

The contention between Aberdeen International and Meson Capital Partners, a San Francisco-based investment firm with a 4% stake in Aberdeen, began in November last year when Meson Capital’s Ryan Morris, an activist investor with a spotty track record, cried foul after Aberdeen executed a private stock sale.

Following that, Morris, in concert with UK investment firm, Nightscape Capital LLP, waged a proxy battle to replace the seven directors at Aberdeen International with new leadership (new leadership which would include Morris himself).

Aberdeen shareholders now have a chance to participate in a proxy vote to decide whether Aberdeen International’s current leadership should be replaced with Ryan Morris and his nominees.

This proxy vote ends on January 30th, 2015.

Current Aberdeen leadership for its part has been proactive in response to the takeover threat. Not only has the company enhanced its board by appointing several new directors, all who have significant mining experience, Aberdeen has also implemented fresh cost-cutting policies.

New Lead Director of Aberdeen’s board, Bernie Wilson, comes with significant experience in corporate governance and also happens to be the founder of the Institute of Corporate Directors (“ICD”) Corporate Governance College in Canada.

New Director, John Begeman, meanwhile is well-traveled in the precious metals sector, having served as Chief Executive Officer and President of Avion Gold Corporation, as well as Vice President for Gold Corp Inc.

How Aberdeen’s shareholders will vote on January 30th and whether they will vote in support of Ryan Morris’ takeover bid depends a lot on whether or not shareholders believe that Morris and the new leadership can successfully lead a mining investment firm. As a side note, shareholders will also have to stomach Morris’ controversial past and the underperformance of his Meson Capital Fund (see following table for details).

Ryan Morris and his board nominees have very little experience in leading a precious metals company; moreover, few of the nominees have experience leading a Canadian-based public company. If Morris and his nominees do indeed win the proxy battle, they will face a steep learning curve. The question is, will Aberdeen shareholders have the patience to accept the missteps that Morris and company will certainly make as they learn the ropes.

Ryan Morris and Meson Capital Partners are no strangers to missteps. Since 2010, the Meson Capital Fund has underperformed when compared to the S&P 500, some years as much as -41.4%.

What’s more, Morris’ experience at Lucas Energy, an energy firm that he targeted several years ago as an activist investor, ended miserably, with the company’s continued underperformance and Ryan Morris finally being demoted of both his Chairman and Director titles.

If Ryan Morris and his nominees win the Aberdeen proxy battle, will Morris and company lead Aberdeen International down a similar road as Lucas Energy? That’s a prospect that Aberdeen shareholders will have to face if they do indeed decide to vote in Morris and his nominees later this month.

Mike Luft

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