By Lee Munson
Carl Icahn is trying to portray himself as a shareholder activist. His Twitter profile page makes him look like a cross between a wise, old grandpa ready to help Main Street investors and "The Most Interesting Man in the World" from those Dos Equis ads.
But he's still a pirate and corporate raider. Just look at his recent attacks on eBay (EBAY).
Icahn wants the online auction company to spin off its PayPal unit. And he's said some nasty things about eBay's CEO and board members to help make his case.
That sounds just like what corporate raiders used to do in the 1980s. They would buy up shares in a company, made announcements about the wrongs of that company's executives, and used the media to promote their plan to increase the value of their holdings.
Is that wrong? No. But suggesting that an open letter to management is a public service announcement is wrong. Icahn is portraying himself as an activist to convince the public that his way is truly in the best interests for all parties.
However, there are many different groups involved and not all of them are in harmony. Stockholders, management, employees, and customers are not always in alignment. They don't have to be for capitalism to work.
Shareholders can be investors interested in long-term growth and speculators looking for a short-term profit. We should not assume one loud mercenary speaks for all shareholders.
Fans of Icahn will point out that he tells it like it is. Not so. He tells you what he wants so he can make a profit. How is he really benefiting average investors?
Someone recently suggested that the public wouldn't know things like Apple (AAPL) is sitting on a ton of cash if it weren't for people like Icahn. Really? Every analyst on Wall Street can see the cash. In fact, anybody that takes the time to look at public documents can see it.
In celebrating Icahn, we clearly lack any sense of history. Come on people. Carl Icahn was reportedly the inspiration for Gordon Gekko!
Of course, Icahn is free to speak, present his ideas, and allow the animal spirits of the market do what it will. Just don't think he is any different now than when I was a kid in the 1980s.
I admire the skill of Carl Icahn. But it's my job to protect clients from making bets based on what speculators are doing. It would be a mistake to invest their retirement portfolio alongside Icahn and other pirates on the high seas of Wall Street.
Lee Munson is the founder and CIO of Portfolio Wealth Advisors. He does not own eBay. He can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.portfoliollc.com. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely his.
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