• Aged Vulture Goes for Ford

Aged Vulture Goes for Ford
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Kirk Kerkorian. Perhaps he’ll go down as the billionaire that can’t quite catch on that a few billion is pocket change in the car business.

Kerkorian is offering 8.50 a share for Ford stock. In all, he wants to buy 20 million Ford shares, accumulating more than 5% of Ford’s outstanding publicly held common stock.

Kerkorian, who is 980 and is well known as a market vulture, has been pulling stunts like this for over three decades.

But he’s been a remarkably bumbling one, the only real accomplishment of his career being the dismembering of MGM over twenty years ago, a move which made him a pile, destroyed MGM, and ended up being paid for by the other shareholders of that company.

In the last several years, though, he’s targeted car companies.

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Previously, he tried to force General Motors to pay attention to him, attempting to get it to cozy up to Carlos Ghosn and Renault. GM’s CEO, Rick Wagoner, blew him off. Kerkorian sold out, albeit at a profit, and ran away. Then he tried to buy Chrysler. His offer wasn’t taken seriously by the DaimlerChyrsler board, who later sold to Cerberus for vastly more.

In the 1990’s, Kerkorian tried to buy Chrysler. After Daimler bought it, he sued, claiming the price was to low. He lost.

Kerkorian, in short, is regarded as a nutcase, but a pest. He distracts management from it’s job, which is to benefit all of the shareholders.

Now he’s plunking down cash for Ford stock.

This time, though, he may really have done something stupid.

The publicly available Ford stock does not carry voting rights.

That Ford stock is a buy is not in question. Recently, this blog posted a summary of an article from Barron’s magazine suggesting that Ford stock was a very strong buy, selling at almost is modern historic low. Shortly after that blog post appeared, Ford posted an unexpected $100 million profit for the first quarter of this year. Kerkorian’s announcement that he was offering $8.50 per share for as many as 20 million Ford shares. Though that would amount to about $170 million, it would still be only about one percent of the publicly held Ford common stock.

But, unlike most companies, the publicly held Ford shares have no voting power. Those Ford shareholders have no say in electing the Board of Directors or officers of the company. Only the separate class of shares owned by the Ford family have voting rights. So, Kerkorian is buying shares which give him no power to affect the company’s affairs, and not even a credible threat of one.

Kerkorian’s public announcement lauded the current Ford management, led by Alan Mulally, and expressed confidence in the company’s future. However, Kerkorian’s credibility isn’t that good. He made an effort to push GM into an alliance with Renault, but was firmly rebuffed by GM CEO Rick Wagoner. His bid for control of Chrysler was laughably low, compared to the ultimate deal struck with Cerberus by the Daimler board of directors.

If the past is any prediction of the future, Kerkorian will prove not to be a long-term investor in Ford, but a creature of habit, being a distraction to the management as he does what he can to make a juicy profit on his investment and then sell out.

But, at least we now know he reads Barron’s.

Or this blog.

Ralph Kalal
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