Activist investing legend Carl Icahn has never been shy about discussing how he plans to profit from his investments. And earlier this week, he announced that he's taken a large stake in Allergan plc. (NYSE:AGN), the multibillion-dollar Irish drugmaker that recently saw its planned merger with Pfizer Inc. unravel.
However, Icahn hasn't outlined the shareholder-friendly changes he thinks Allergan ought to make (yet). What he did do was give a big shout-out to Allergan CEO Brenton Saunders, the former CEO of Forest Labs, a previous Icahn investment. Can lightening strike twice for Icahn? In this clip from The Motley Fool's Industry Focus: Healthcare podcast, analyst Kristine Harjes is joined by contributor Todd Campbell to discuss Icahn's stake and what it may mean for investors.
A transcript follows the video.
This podcast was recorded on Jun. 1, 2016.
Kristine Harjes: First, Icahn's big announcement.
Todd Campbell: Icahn is a Goliath. He's one of the best-known activist investors. He's very vocal, he has a Twitter presence, he has a blog presence, he's always on TV talking about the investments and the changes he's trying to see happen at those companies he invests in.
He has just announced that he's taken what he describes as a "large" position in Allergan.
Harjes: And that's what I'm seeing in the headlines everywhere: "large position." We don't know exactly how big it is, we just know it's large, whatever that means. I'm not really sure if he means large for him, or large compared to you and me. But whatever it is, he's into the stock, has initiated a position in it, and he praised the CEO quite extensively, saying he has every confidence in Brent Saunders' ability to enhance value.
Campbell: Yeah, that was essentially the entire press release. It was one big, long paragraph where he basically was a cheerleader for Allergan's CEO. He went back to reference how much success he'd had when he was running Forest Labs, another stock that Icahn had owned a lot of, and had profited handsomely from when that company got bought by what has since morphed and become Allergan. That's how Saunders has become CEO of this company.
It seems like Icahn's double-dipping a little bit. He had a lot of success with this guy at Forest, now he's going to try to have a lot of success with him at Allergan.
Harjes: Yeah, you mentioned how short the press release is. I think the thing that pops up on the website, that you have to sign off on and say "Oh, yeah, I understand that this is all opinion," I think that was longer than the actual statement itself from Icahn. It's kind of interesting, coming from a guy who usually has a really elaborate strategy behind his buys. He's an activist investor. He wants to get in there and shake things up. He has a mission. And that doesn't really seem to be the case here.
Campbell: It's a little odd in that respect. One of Icahn's most high-profile bets up until recently was in Apple. He was always agitating for Apple to return more money to investors. You're right, he goes in with a game plan. He wants Allergan, ostensibly, to increase shareholder value. The question will be, what is his plan that he'll recommend to Saunders to do that? Will it be breaking it up? Will it be returning more money to investors? Dividends? Buybacks? What will he actually try to advocate for. He's an activist, so he's got to activate something.
Harjes: Yeah. My suspicion is that, even though he's remaining pretty quiet on it for now, Allergan is trying to sell its generics unit to Teva Pharmaceuticals for $40.5 billion. There's some doubt about whether or not this will go through. But I bet, if it goes through and Allergan gets all this money, which is mostly coming in cash, Icahn's going to have something to say about what he wants done with it.
Campbell: Absolutely. And maybe that's why he's biding time, he's taking this step. My opinion would be he feels very confident the FTC will sign off on this deal going through. The expectation was that this deal would happen sometime in June. If so, then the estimate pegs Allergan walking away with about $36 billion in cash and stock after fees are paid out. That's a lot of money. The company has $42 billion in debt -- $36 billion coming in, theoretically, in cash, some of that money could go to debt, and then a special dividend, or some way of rewarding investors like that, could be on the dock. We'll have to wait and see.
Harjes: The stock hasn't really moved that much because of this news. In fact, it's down roughly 24% year to date. Do you think Carl Icahn buying in is a sign to investors that they want to take a closer look?
Campbell: A lot of these investors, these billionaires, have made their money by taking the contrarian stance. A lot of times, that's when opportunities emerge, when everybody has panicked away from a stock and knocked it down to a value where people can then step in and say, "I can buy a lot of shares of this for fairly cheap money." Allergan, in this case, after Pfizer and Allergan got rid of their proposed $160 billion merger, shares got whacked, and we got down to about $200 per share from a peak of $325 last fall. That was spitting distance to the company's book value. So it's certainly possible that you have Icahn looking at this and saying, this is a pretty low-risk, in his opinion, way of getting exposure to the space.
And he's not alone, either. There are other contrarian investors who have also taken stakes recently in Allergan. John Paulson, who's a billionaire investor, has a stake in the company. Dan Loeb, who manages Third Point, which is another very successful hedge fund, he's taken a stake as well. There's big money that's betting on some sort of a positive outcome.