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Disney picks up more support as board vote nears deadline By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The logo of the Walt Disney Company is displayed above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly after the closing bell as the market takes a significant dip in New York, U.S., February 25, 2020.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

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By Svea Herbst-Bayliss and Dawn Chmielewski

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Walt Disney scored another key win in its boardroom battle with activist investors on Tuesday, just hours before the deadline for a shareholder vote that will guide the future of one of the world’s largest entertainment companies.

One of Disney’s biggest investors, Norges Bank Investment Management, said it had voted to re-elect 11 of the entertainment company’s 12 directors.

The endorsement added to Disney’s momentum before a Tuesday night deadline for shareholders to decide whether to back Chief Executive Bob Iger’s slate of current directors or five alternative candidates proposed by hedge funds Trian Fund Management and Blackwells Capital.

The contest is the most closely watched boardroom clash in the United States this year, serving as a referendum on the future of the century-old Mouse House as it navigates the entertainment industry’s shift to streaming.

NBIM, which manages the Norwegian Government Pension Fund and owned a 1.2% stake in Disney at the end of last year, said it had voted to re-elect nearly all company directors but withheld its vote for Mark Parker, chairman of Disney’s board.

It did not vote for any candidates proposed by Trian or Blackwells.

Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the vote tally.

More voting is expected on Tuesday before results are announced at the company’s annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday, which will stream live at 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT).

By late Monday, Disney appeared to have moved ahead in the race with more than 50% of all shares voted and large shareholders including T. Rowe Price having announced their votes for the company, according to people familiar with the matter.

But these people cautioned that many votes had not been cast yet and that shareholders still have the chance to change their minds.

With news that NBIM backed the bulk of Disney directors, Disney may have gained even more of an edge, for now.

The entertainment giant, valued at $222 billion, is battling billionaire hedge fund investor Nelson Peltz, who runs Trian and has argued Disney has lost its creative spark and bungled its succession planning.

Blackwells Capital, a much smaller investment firm, has said it largely supports Disney’s strategy but has a few ideas of its own, including splitting off the company’s real estate holdings. Blackwells also wants to keep Peltz off the board and improve transparency for investors at Disney.

NBIM…

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