I can’t remember a relationship with a romantic partner where, after a fight, the issue was smoothed over by calling and starting the conversation by saying “I’m calling to forgive you.” But that’s exactly what happened in the kiss and make up drama between activist hedge fund managers William Ackman and Carl Icahn. The hedge fund industry’s most watched relationship, between the older Icahn and the smooth-talking, baby-faced Ackman might be more pragmatic, like a good trader, than it is emotional. Ackman is essentially saying to Icahn “You’re wrong, but I’ll forget about it so we can make money together.”
Ackman’s call, which was fielded by Icahn’s assistant, prompted a return call from Icahn, where he told Icahn: “It is a blessing to forgive. I forgive you.” The Wall Street Journal reported on the phone call kumbaya this morning.
Pragmatic opportunities trump emotional scars in this relationship
The key statement for investors in the phone call from Ackman to Icahn last Thursday wasn’t Ackman declaring he is willing to accept and overlook past faults in their highly public debate, but it was when Ackman spoke to the practical, money-making aspect of the relationship. “There is a much greater opportunity we are on the same side than the opposite side,” Ackman said, hinting at would could be a dynamic duo in taking down corporate management.
Think about the devastating force of Ackman and Icahn teaming up: Icahn could intimidate the board and management by placing fear in their hearts of attacks on their personal reputations, while Ackman’s subtle message might be “I control regulators.” Where is a CEO with a long-term focus on building innovative products through research and development to turn?
Schoolyard bully calls man with apparent regulatory control “schoolyard crybaby”
Icahn has often been compared to the schoolyard bully. In fact, in the preeminent mudslinging cat fight that broadcast January 25, 2013 on CNBC he called Ackman a “crybaby in the schoolyard.” Ackman questioned Icahn’s ethics in a deal gone bad where Ackman claims Icahn backed out of a written agreement. Ackman took Icahn to court, which ordered Icahn to pay Ackman’s fund $9 million.
Icahn made the first “peace pipe” offering to Ackman on CNBC last week, saying he “didn’t see anything illegal” with Ackman’s teaming up with pharmaceutical company Valeant Pharmaceuticals Intl Inc (NYSE:VRX) for additional muscle in its takeover of Allergan, Inc. (NYSE:AGN).
Is Icahn eyeing easy money?
What Icahn likely saw was easy money. He realizes that if he can team up with other companies looking to take over firms, getting in the takeover before the deal is public, that’s as close to a sure bet as it gets.
At the end of the day, Ackman and Icahn getting on the inside of corporate deals before they become public and then taking their aggressive form of activist investing to stagnate corporate boards will, at least, generate interesting copy if not short-term profits for those involved.