What is the Icahn Lift?
The “Icahn lift” refers to the effect on the share price of a company that American businessman Carl Icahn buys into. Due to Mr. Icahn’s prominent reputation of being an activist investor, when he accumulates shares in a company, the market expectation is that he will act as an activist shareholder in said company and drive additional shareholder value (thereby increasing the share price).
- The “Icahn lift” refers to the effect on the share price of a company that Carl Icahn buys into.
- Carl Icahn is an American businessman who made a name for himself on Wall Street through being a corporate raider and an activist shareholder.
- Icahn is the founder and controlling shareholder of Icahn Enterprises and had briefly served as a special economic adviser on financial regulation to U.S. President Donald Trump in 2017.
Understanding the Icahn Lift
The process of the Icahn lift can be described as follows:
- Mr. Icahn accumulates a sizable position in a company that he believes is undervalued,
- The rationale for the company being undervalued is publicly outlined by Mr. Icahn (for example, poor management team, avoidable costs that are currently being incurred by the company, a poorly performing business segment, etc.),
- The company’s share price increases (i.e., the “Icahn lift”) if the rationale for the undervaluation of Mr. Icahn’s company is justifiable.
Brief Backgrounder on Carl Icahn
Born on February 16, 1936, Carl Icahn is an American businessman who made a name for himself on Wall Street through being a corporate raider and an activist shareholder. In the 1980s, corporate raiding in the U.S. was common – raiders bought large stakes in companies and used their shareholder rights to influence corporate and leadership decisions.
One of Mr. Icahn’s most prominent raids was of U.S. airline TWA, which he acquired control through a leveraged buyout in 1988 and eventually stripped of its assets for a substantial return. The following are two high-profile corporate takeovers by Carl Icahn:
- In 2006, Carl Icahn called for the break-up of Time Warner into four entities due to its poor management: AOL, networks and film, publishing, and cable. According to Mr. Icahn, the break-up per-share value of Time Warner was expected to be $23.30-$26.57 per share versus the then share price of $18.50. Although Mr. Icahn ultimately failed to get Time Warner to break up, he reached a settlement that included a share buyback and cost-cutting measures, which boosted Time Warner’s share price.
- In 2007, Carl Icahn acquired a 1.4% interest in Motorola, demanded a seat on the company’s board, and called for the company to return cash to shareholders through a stock buyback and increase its leverage. With Motorola reluctant to grant Mr. Icahn a board seat, Icahn sued Motorola in 2008 and forced a spin-off of its unprofitable mobile phone unit.
According to Forbes magazine on November 15, 2020, Mr. Icahn’s net worth is estimated to be $14.5 billion, and he is the 39th wealthiest person of the Forbes 400. He is the founder and controlling shareholder of Icahn Enterprises and briefly served as a special economic adviser on financial regulation to US President Donald Trump in 2017.
A Theoretical Example of the Icahn Lift
Several market participants notice that Mr. Icahn has been increasing his ownership stake in CookingAB Corp., a fictitious company. Days after the observation, he publishes a 200-page report in partnership with a colleague, outlining why CookingAB Corp. is undervalued: a poor management team, a loss of direction, and a bloated cost structure.
In conjunction with the report, Mr. Icahn threatens to take over the company should the management team not employ the methods to increase shareholder value as outlined in the report. The 200-page report is digested by institutional investors, who agree that the company is undervalued. As a result, the institutional investors accumulate shares of the company, boosting its short-term share price.
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