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Icahn wants Time Warner to shed cable unit

Financier Carl Icahn disclosed Monday that he and a group of investors will press Time Warner Inc. to shed its cable TV unit and embark on an aggressive buyback of $20 billion of its own shares.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Financier Carl Icahn said Monday he will press Time Warner Inc. to shed its cable TV unit and embark on an aggressive buyback of $20 billion of its own shares.

Icahn, who is known for taking stakes in companies and agitating for strategic changes, said in a statement that he and three other investors have amassed more than 120 million shares of Time Warner, or about 2.6 percent of the giant media conglomerate, which owns CNN, HBO, Warner Bros. and the country’s second-largest cable TV provider.

Earlier this month Time Warner said it planned to repurchase $5 billion of its own shares over the next two years in a bid to raise the company’s sagging stock price, but Icahn and his partners believe Time Warner can afford much more dramatic steps to boost the shares.

Icahn said in a statement Monday that while he felt Time Warner has done a “commendable job” managing each of its businesses and announced steps to increase shareholder value, “it has not moved quickly enough and it has not proposed measures which would enhance values to the degree necessary to realize the inherent value” of its assets.

Separation of the cable unit as well as an immediate repurchase of $20 billion in Time Warner shares would push up the price to a level that reflected fair value, Icahn said.

His investor group includes Franklin Mutual Advisors, JANA Partners and S.A.C. Capital Investors. Icahn said each investor has notified the company it plans to buy more than $500 million of Time Warner stock.

Icahn said he had contacted Time Warner’s chief executive, Dick Parsons, and planned to meet with him this week to discuss his views. He said he and his partners also planned to discuss their plans with other large shareholders in the company.

Henry Berghoef, head of research at Chicago-based Harris Associates L.P., a major shareholder of Time Warner with 72.6 million shares, declined to say wether his firm had been contacted by Icahn. But he said he did agree that the shares were undervalued.

“We agree with Icahn that there is a significant gap there, and we believe one of the responsibilities of management is to achieve an alignment between market price and underlying value,” Berghoef said.

Another major shareholder of Time Warner, Legg Mason, said the company had not been contacted by Icahn and did not have any comment. Portfolio manager Bill Miller said in a statement that “in the absence of a statement from him detailing exactly what he proposes, and why it is superior to the current strategy, we are unable to comment.”

Mia Carbonell, a Time Warner spokeswoman, said: “Our board and our management are committed to creating long-term value for all shareholders, and we have been on a course that demonstrates that commitment.”

Time Warner has already said it intends to spin off part of its cable company to shareholders as part of a three-way deal with Comcast Corp., the leading cable company, to acquire the assets of the bankrupt cable provider Adelphia Communications Corp.

Time Warner’s shares rose 26 cents to close at $18.50 Monday on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares rose about 4 percent earlier this month after reports emerged of Icahn’s interest, but the stock is still down about 5 percent overall this year, and has been stuck below $20 since April 2002.

Many investors have soured on the stocks of major media conglomerates recently as hopes of synergies between the far-flung media properties fade and on concerns about technological challenges like digital piracy and ad-skipping technology.

Viacom Inc., another major media company that owns CBS and MTV, is trying to revive its own flagging share price with a plan to split itself into two separate entities, one based on CBS, the other centered on MTV and other cable channels including VH1 and Nickelodeon. But so far its shares haven’t seen a big boost.

News Corp., the media conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch, has also announced a $3 billion share buyback.

Icahn has made a fortune as well as a fearsome reputation for himself by taking stakes in companies and then pressing management to take measures to boost shareholder value. Earlier this year Icahn dropped a bid to sit on the board of Oklahoma energy company Kerr-McGee Corp. after the company agreed to sell its chemical business and spend $4 billion to repurchase nearly 30 percent of its own shares.