The Icahn Manifesto
11 Pages Posted: 25 Dec 2014
Date Written: Fall 2014
The title of this opening chapter in the author's new book on activist investors refers to Carl Icahn's solution to the “agency” problem faced by the shareholders of public companies in motivating corporate managers and boards to maximize firm value. During the 1960s and '70s, U.S. public companies tended to be run in ways designed to increase their size while minimizing their financial risk, with heavy emphasis on corporate diversification. Icahn successfully challenged corporate managers throughout the 1970s and 1980s by buying blocks of shares in companies he believed were undervalued and then demanding board seats and other changes in corporate governance and management. This article describes the evolution of Icahn as an investor. Starting by investing in undervalued, closed‐end mutual funds and then shorting shares of the stocks in the underlying portfolio, Icahn was able to get fund managers either to liquidate their funds (giving Icahn an arbitrage profit on his long mutual fund/short underlying stocks position) or take other steps to eliminate the “value gap.” After closing the value gaps within the limited universe of closed‐end mutual funds, Icahn turned his attention to the shares of companies trading for less than his perception of the value of their assets. As the author goes on to point out, the strategy that Icahn used with such powerful effect can be traced to the influence of the great value investor Benjamin Graham. Graham was a forceful advocate for the use of shareholder activism to bring about change in underperforming - and in that sense undervalued - companies. The first edition of Graham's investing classic, Security Analysis, published in 1934, devoted an entire chapter to the relationship between shareholders and management, which Graham described as “one of the strangest phenomena of American finance.”
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