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The automotive industry is beginning to look like a speed-dating event: Partners are spending minutes getting to know one another before moving on to the next prospect. Billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian seems to be particularly adept at filling up his card, having been through this serial-dating pattern before.
Just months after sitting down with a 6% stake in Ford (NYSE: F ) for what he said was the long haul, he's thanking them for their time and selling his stake in the automaker for whatever he can get. Similarly, he batted those bushy-browed eyes at Chrysler back in the 1990s before seeing to it that it got hitched to Daimler (NYSE: DAI ) to "enhance shareholder value." And he made goo-goo eyes at General Motors (NYSE: GM ) in 2005 until he was rebuffed in his efforts to marry it off to Nissan (Nasdaq: NSANY ) .
These days it seems that anyone involved in automobiles wants to hook up with someone, though Chrysler is playing the role of most eligible bachelor. It casts longing eyes at GM, but if Nissan would like to come calling ... well, who is Chrysler parent Cerberus Capital Management to say no?
However, the Kerkorian move with Ford is a little different from how he has courted other automakers in the past. This time he wasn't angling for an activist position -- though with the Ford family in control of 40% of the voting block of stock, it's doubtful he would have been successful anyway -- and he said he was happy with the way CEO Alan Mulally was engineering the automaker's turnaround.
Yet his stated reason of wanting to unload his shares to look for better bets in his gambling and oil haunts doesn't make much sense. While those industries are depressed and offer cheap prices, the way the economy has whacked them about the head doesn't make them look like they have any better chance of recovery anytime soon than Ford does.
But maybe it explains why he feels the need to sell. Kerkorian used as collateral his stake in MGM Mirage (NYSE: MGM ) to buy Ford shares. MGM's shares are down 82% so far this year, while Ford's are off 60%. He bought his shares in Ford for an estimated price of just under $7 a share, and his 7 million shares sold yesterday (out of upwards of 140 million) for $2.43 -- a pretty steep haircut even for a billionaire.
With even foreign car companies like Honda (NYSE: HMC ) and Toyota (NYSE: TM ) in a bind over how to get consumers to buy a car -- let alone domestic carmakers -- Kerkorian apparently feels the craps tables are a safer bet. The chimes are ringing and the future prospects are beckoning. Next!
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