While Carl Icahn evokes a wide range of opinions within the investment community, trades made by the activist investor are worth noting because of the sheer size he is able to control. Known for acquiring large enough stakes in the companies he covets to effect change from the inside out, Icahn can move quickly and impact the price and future of some significantly sized stocks. What follows is a discussion of several stocks that Icahn has recently sold out of completely, and some suggestions on other stocks that might make attractive substitutes.
Yahoo Inc. (YHOO) – Ever since the failed merger between YHOO and Microsoft (MSFT), the deal that first brought Icahn into play with YHOO, the company has struggled to maintain an identity. The stock has recently traded below $13 per share at levels not seen since 2008. While the company has a trailing price-to-earnings ratio that is lower than some of its key competitors, the negative revenue growth is of real concern. The clear choice in this space is rival behemoth Google (GOOG). With business lines well beyond search and advertising, GOOG has become a serious force in the smart phone arena and continues to take market share from others, specifically Apple (OTC:APPL) and Research In Motion (RIMM) maker of the Blackberry. GOOG has a strong growth profile and is a solid play across any of its three primary lines of business.
Smith & Wesson Holding (SWHC) – Icahn sold out of his position in SWHC in the third quarter of 2010 at an estimated average price of $3.82 per share; the stock has declined in excess of 20% since that time. For those investors who are interested in this space, Sturm, Ruger & Company (RGR) is a far better option. In addition to having a market capitalization over twice as large as SWHC, RGR has a more diversified and international reach. On the bulk of key financial metrics, RGR is more attractive: The company has an operating margin of 16.8% versus 2.6% for SWHC; it has shown quarterly earnings growth of 23.7% relative to 7.7%; and most critically, the company has been profitable recently; SWHC reported a negative earnings-per-share figure at its last report.
Anadarko Petroleum Corporation (APC) – This is another third quarter decision by Icahn, and has not proven to be a good call; the stock is up over 30% since the sale at an estimated average price of $50.49 per share. APC has a large focus on deep water drilling off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and at the time there was a great deal of wrangling between the U.S. government and the major oil companies that wanted and needed drilling permits. In fact, there was a period where the future of deep water drilling looked to be doubtful to some. As alternative options, any of the major oil companies. Exxon Mobil (XOM), Conoco Phillips (COP), or even British Petrol (BP) will be purer plays on the price of oil than APC, which has a significant interest in natural gas as well. By the straight numbers, APC still looks very attractive, especially in light of the significant selloff in crude prices over the past several weeks.
Chesapeake Energy Corporation (CHK) – The trade represents one of the inherent limitations with observing the trading of large institutional investors; the lag can create a false signal on the stock. CHK is an attractive pure play on natural gas. At the end of the first quarter of 2011, there was a general sense that natural gas was at a near-term high and that companies in the space would be hurt. Currently, United States Natural Gas (UNG), the most liquid natural gas ETF, is near a 52-week low and looking poised for a move up based on both technical and fundamental factors. For investors looking for a more diversified approach to the energy market, companies like APC or the major oil companies may be a better option. Investing directly in UNG is another play on the natural gas market that can take advantage of the strength in commodities and mitigate company-specific risk.
The Wendy’s Company (WEN) – As one of the major cultural icons of American fast food, WEN has been a late adopter of the healthier menu choices that have kept McDonald’s (MCD) so competitive. MCD has also significantly benefitted from the success of its McCafe line of products, which represent a premium to its usually profit margin, but still a significant discount to premium coffee houses like those run by Starbuck’s (SBUX). By the numbers, even ignoring the negative earnings per share posted by the company, MCD has a more attractive price-to-earnings over growth when compared to WEN, at 1.56 relative 2.19. When operating margins are considered, 30.4% for MCD relative to 5.7% for WEN, MCD demonstrates itself to be the more attractive stock. Lastly, with a dividend yield of 3% for MCD versus 1.8% for WEN, the former is more attractive as an income play as well.
Endo Pharmaceuticals Holdings (ENDP) – Recent price action has brought ENDP more in line with some of its close competitors, making the stock more attractive than it has been in recent weeks. In spite of the selloff, this has proved one of Icahn better sales; the stock is up over 60% since it was liquidated at an estimated price of $20.89 per share. A strong alternative to ENDP is Cephalon, Inc. (CEPH), which has a slight edge in certain metrics. With a trailing price-to-earnings multiple of 11.6 relative to 15.3 for ENDP, the stock looks to be a better value for each dollar of earnings. The company also has an operating margin of 30% versus 28% for ENDP. Overall, both look strong at current levels, and are attractive against the major pharmaceuticals like Abbott (ABT), Pfizer (PFE), and Merck (MRK).