Hedge fund activists rely on their ability to guide corporate decisions in a manner that will
unlock value at an underperforming company by altering management and strategic direction.
Shareholder activists will make sizable investments in companies with the intention of affecting this
“positive” change. There has been significant debate whether these activists are truly adding value to
corporate shareholders. However, it does seem that the negative connotation associated with the term
“activist” seems to be fading. Even the current Chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission,
Mary Jo White, remarked at a conference in December 2013 that the view of shareholder activists has
progressed away from the negative association. In this paper, I will be focusing on activist investments
made by billionaire activist, Carl Icahn. Icahn has been called a “corporate raider” (particularly in the
1980s) but this moniker has seemed to evolve into “activist investor” over the last several years. His
track record is undoubtedly mixed, however, it appears that in the last ten years, his wins outnumber his
losses (33 to 19)1
and the overall returns of his activist investments have significantly outpaced the
Shareholder activism can trace its early roots back to the 1930s, after the stock market crash of
1929. In reaction to the crash, legislators passed new laws such as the Securities Act of 1933 and the
Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 in an attempt to protect prospective shareholders. However, the
passage of these new laws could did not completely address the changes that shareholders desired in
corporate America. As a result, shareholder activists attempted to affect change with c...
... middle of paper ...
... this cash to reduce the number of shares outstanding in conjunction with the reduction
in projected cash flows. Management of the firm rejected Icahn’s proposal calling the deal
“irresponsible” and saying that it would potentially jeopardize the future of the business. However, they
did explore related strategic alternatives. Kerr‐McGee’s board agreed to sell or spin‐off the company’s
chemical unit and also said it would sell around $2 billion of properties. Those properties represent up
to 25 percent of Kerr‐McGee’s production and 15 percent of the company’s proved reserves at the time.
Additionally, they agreed to buy back $4 billion of common stock, representing almost 30 percent of the
shares outstanding. The investment has returned 28% since Icahn reported his holdings within the 13D
filing. The S&P 500 returned 5% over the same time period.