Does Icahn Enterprises Need an Activist?

Carl Icahn is the first of the activist investors -- formerly known as "corporate raiders." Long before Ackman and Einhorn, Icahn was a robber baron of the corporate world circa 1985. At 77 years old, the investor hasn't pumped the brakes one bit, recently taking high-profile positions in companies such as Netflix and Herbalife . Though his reputation ranges from exalted to despised, his recent picks have proved profitable plays for investors who followed suit. Recently, one thing is a mystery: his own public company. Despite Icahn's investing successes, Icahn Enterprises has been a poor performer as of late. Let's take a closer look to see whether the market's abandonment of the stock is warranted.

Recent performance
Icahn Enterprises is a near $6 billion holding company owned almost entirely by Carl Icahn (no surprise there). Since 2010, revenue has nearly doubled to $15.7 billion, while the bottom line in the most recent year was just shy of $380 million. The company has nearly $4.5 billion in cash and equivalents, as well as an easily manageable debt load. This year the company tripled its dividend to $4 per share -- a 7.3% yield.

IEP subsidiaries include everybody's favorite orange juice, Tropicana, and American Railcar Industries . Icahn's recent bid for Dell is backed by IEP, as well as the company's position in aforementioned Herbalife and Netflix. Objectively, the conglomerate owns a solid portfolio of companies and maintains minority positions in public entities that, with the exception of Herbalife, have performed well.

With many fundamental indicators suggesting that IEP is a stable, cash-generating business and recent wins in equity markets, why has the stock tumbled from its mid-February high of nearly $90 per share to today's $55?

What happened?
For context, let's look at some of Icahn's stock holdings. Netflix earned $0.13 per share last quarter versus a market estimate of a $0.12 loss. Icahn owns 4.8 million shares, or nearly 9% of the company. In just three months, the value of those shares has gone from $441 million to more than $848 million -- nearly 15% of Icahn Enterprises' current market cap. American Railcar Industries' stock has risen 53% in the last six months, boosting Icahn's stake by millions.

One possible culprit was the company's follow-on offering in early March, which came out priced at $63 per share. Investors may also be nervous regarding the company's large position in Dell and Herbalife -- two stocks that strongly polarize sentiment.

So what's an investor to do?

The call
Icahn Enterprises' dividend yield has been erratic over the years, and I am not sure its current 7% yield is long for this world. As mentioned, the company is almost entirely owned by Icahn himself. While big insider ownership is a plus in many situations, this particular situation makes for limited liquidity and the risk that Icahn will take actions for himself, rather than shareholders.

The current valuation is compelling, and Icahn's investments have certainly been on par as of late, but I believe this stock warrants a much deeper, more cautious look before any decision can be made.

Is Netflix a better bet?
The tumultuous performance of Netflix shares since the summer of 2011 has caused headaches for many devoted shareholders. While the company's first-mover status is often viewed as a competitive advantage, the opportunities in streaming media have brought some new, deep-pocketed rivals looking for their piece of a growing pie. Can Netflix fend off this burgeoning competition, and will its international growth aspirations really pay off? These are must-know issues for investors, which is why The Motley Fool released a brand-new premium report on Netflix. Inside, you'll learn about the key opportunities and risks facing the company, as well as reasons to buy or sell the stock. The report includes a full year of updates to cover critical new developments, so be sure to click here and claim a copy today.

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Fool contributor Michael Lewis has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of Netflix and has the following options: Long Jan 2014 $50 Calls on Herbalife Ltd. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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