The Wrath of IcahnThe Wrath of Icahn
Billionaire might force a Moto showdown
January 31, 2007
4:10 PM -- As if Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) CEO Ed Zander didn't have enough problems, now he's got Carl Icahn on his tail. After Icahn's wrestling match with Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX) last year ended in a stalemate, the billionaire financier, who owns 1.4 percent of Motorola's shares, now says he wants the company to up its share-buyback plans and to elect him to its board of directors.
This is the latest in a string of woes for Zander, who presided over the launch of the RAZR, the most popular cell phone in history, but has watched Motorola's margins collapse and its stock fall by almost 30 percent since mid-October. (See The Perils of Being Slim.)
Investors, perhaps thinking that Icahn will engineer a boardroom coup and oust Zander, pushed the stock up by almost 7 percent yesterday on the news. (The share price is essentially flat today.)
But those who think that Icahn is the cure for what ails Motorola should listen to senior wireless equipment analyst Daryl Armstrong of Citigroup , who wrote in a research note this morning, "While the introduction of a change agent like Icahn provides the potential for changes in capital allocation/business portfolio, we think any external agent will have little impact in addressing the operational issues plaguing handsets."
In other words, Icahn might force Motorola to buy back more of its shares and return more of its $10.5 billion cash stockpile to investors, but he's not going to sell more cellphones.
It's also worth noting that not every CEO who feels the hot breath of Icahn winds up permanently disabled. Time Warner Richard Parsons, whom Icahn attacked with ferocity during his proxy battle in 2005-06, has emerged stronger than ever. Time Warner said today its fourth-quarter profit, boosted by Parsons' $16.7 billion acquisition of Adelphia Communications' cable-TV unit, rose 34 percent. In the last six months TW's share price has risen 35 percent as Parsons focuses on reviving AOL.
Don't count Ed Zander out yet.
— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung
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