Expect fireworks at Icahn's Time Warner show
The investor/agitator will keep at Time Warner until he figures out how to crack it open. Or not.
(NEW YORK) FORTUNE - Tuesday afternoon Carl Icahn, investor/agitator, will hold a press conference at the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan, where he will present his case to boost Time Warner's stock price and release a voluminous report by his allies at Lazard Freres on the state of that company.
Leading up to this meeting, there is a report from the Times of London, that Cap Re, a giant investment company in L.A. with a specialty in media stocks, had joined forces with Icahn, which would certainly help his cause, though a source close to the action insists this isn't the case. (Cap Re declined to comment.) Icahn also told me that several large foreign buyers of the stock may side with him, but didn't name names.
Also Monday, Time Warner announced it has agreed to sell its book company for $537 million to a French conglomerate Lagardere. "It's more evidence that this management is intent on optimizing the value of its assets for shareholders," says Susan Duffy, a spokesperson for Time Warner. TWX (Research) closed up 17 cents to $18.58 on Monday, its highest level in more than four months.
Unlike most canned press conferences, Tuesday's confab should have real fireworks. Icahn will speak his mind. At a forum sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School last week, Icahn said "I have never called Dick Parsons a moron. But, he added, "the problem (with Time Warner) is Dick Parsons." If there is a real Q&A with reporters on Tuesday, expect some excellent theatre.
Icahn hopes the report, which he says runs hundreds of pages, will create an uproar, and in a sense it already has. I can't remember the last time Icahn held a press conference (maybe back to the days of hounding TWA), but that's what happens when you attack the largest media company in the world in the biggest media fishbowl of them all.
Icahn has groused about Time Warner's bloated cost structure, but has provided few specifics, other than to complain about corporate aircraft and a large PR staff. To score points, he needs to spell out specific cases of bloat.
And what to make of Rupert Murdoch, who saw fit to defend Parsons in the latest issue of Newsweek, saying that Icahn had gone out on a limb? Maybe Rupert likes competing against a company that has a flat stock price. Or maybe he's trying to curry favor to get carriage of his new business news network. Or maybe he just thinks Icahn is out on a limb.
Some may think this is a make-or-break moment for Icahn. It is not. He will keep going and keep grinding and keep turning over the nut until he figures out how to crack it. Or he may drop it at some point and walk away. Of course, if Time Warner's stock goes up because of all these machinations he may just walk away with a profit. The point is you just can't tell with Icahn.