Large companies and institutional investors are required to disclose what stocks they own in an SEC-mandated filing known as a Form 13F. These must be filed quarterly, and based on the changes from one quarter to the next, the public can see which stocks an investor has been recently buying or selling.
Icahn's media plays
The legendary investor first took aim at Gannett Co. in 2014, crossing over the 5% ownership threshold at which his interest must be disclosed on August 4th of that year. Icahn opined that he believed the shares were undervalued, noting that he bought the shares on the "belief that they were undervalued and that value could be created by splitting [Gannett] into separate print and broadcast companies."
On Aug. 5, 2014, the company announced its intention to separate its businesses. The spin-off took place the next year in June 2015. It's somewhat confusing. The old Gannett Co. changed its name to TEGNA, and from there it spun out one share of Gannett Co. for every two shares of TEGNA shares investors owned.
Post-spinoff, TEGNA owns 46 television stations that reach more than 35 million households. It also controls Cars.com, CareerBuilder, and other digital franchises, in addition to several magazines that were formerly under the Gannett umbrella.
Gannett owns newspapers in 92 daily local markets in the United States, and more than 160 local news brands in the U.K. It intends to continue to acquiring local newspapers, having recently announced a deal that would put 14 new brands under its control.
The old Gannett shares closed at $38.01 on June 22, 2015, the record date of the spin-off. Today, the combined companies, adjusted for dividends, trade for the equivalent of $31.46 per share prior to the spin-off.
In other words, the divided companies are worth less combined than the single company was worth before the spin-off. Icahn seems content to chalk it up as a loser, reducing stakes in Gannett and TEGNA by 13% and 14%, respectively, last quarter.
Icahn's fruit stand
Carl Icahn has been an outspoken critic of Apple, routinely deriding the company's capital allocation plans. In particular, Icahn believed Apple should be more aggressive in buying back stock, taking his concerns direct to the company's CEO, Tim Cook.
In an unusual letter to his Twitter followers, Icahn said he believed Apple shares were a steal at a price of just $66.77 per share, reiterating his requests for buybacks even as Apple traded as high as $122 per share.
He articulated why he believed Apple should trade for as much as 20 times earnings, suggesting that the company should be valued at more than $216 per share in February 2015. That would have given the company a market valuation of nearly $1.3 trillion, making it easily the most highly valued company on the stock market.
The next quarter, he was back at it, suggesting that buybacks had helped, but that Apple should continue to repurchase shares. He believed that Apple was worth as much as $240 per share in May 2015.
It's interesting, then, that Icahn shrank his Apple stake in the fourth quarter of 2015, selling 7 million of his 52.8 million shares he reportedly owned at the end of September 2015. Apple shares never once closed above $123 during the fourth quarter, roughly the price at which Icahn favored aggressive buybacks of the company's stock earlier in the year.
Has Icahn lost his love for Apple? He hasn't publicly stated that, but that he reduced his position by 13% may indicate that he has had a change of heart.
Jordan Wathen has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple and Twitter. The Motley Fool owns shares of Tegna. 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.