Is there value in
Billionaire investor Carl Icahn seems to think so. On Monday, he received regulatory approval from the Federal Trade Commission to acquire a large stake in the company-- at least $50 million. And while that doesn't mean he will buy any shares going forward, it's certainly an interesting development for Kodak shareholders.
"It's being positioned as a growth stock, and there's always uncertainty as to whether that growth will be realized," said Tim Ghriskey, president of Ghriskey Capital. "But there is the potential for this to be a successful growth company and evidently Icahn sees that."
In September, Kodak announced it would slash its dividend to help finance a shift away from its traditional film business and increase investment in digital technology, which is considered a faster growing segment. The move sparked protests from some shareholders, who said the strategy was too risky given the entrenched competition in this area.
A Kodak spokesman said the filing shows that Icahn "sees value in Kodak and we agree with that." He would not comment on whether Icahn is joining the dissident shareholders. Icahn could not be reached for comment and Herbert Denton, president of Providence Capital, which held a conference call last month to challenge Kodak's new strategy, did not return phone calls.
"We don't know what Icahn is doing and why he's doing it," said Ghriskey.
Jeff Pittsburg of Pittsburg Research speculated that if Icahn were to gain control of Kodak he would split the company into two pieces and hold onto the film business. "It would make a lot of sense, it's the cash flow part of the business," he said.
But Ghriskey isn't so sure, noting that there is too much value in the brand name. "I don't think both companies could keep the brand name, so I see risk in that."
Shares of Kodak have fallen 27% this year as the company repeatedly warned it would not meet analysts' estimates. Profits fell 63% in the third quarter as the company took big charges to implement cost cuts and as demand for traditional film declined. Chairman and CEO Daniel Carp said the weak performance reinforces the rationale behind the strategy unveiled on Sept 25. Shortly after that, Kodak shares hit a 52-week low.
Still, shareholders are worried that the investment in digital technology will come at the expense of the profitable film business. In September, Kodak slashed its annual dividend to just 50 cents from $1.80 to help fund its digital unit.
Soleil Capital analyst Shannon Cross maintained her sell recommendation on Kodak Tuesday "as we await further information regarding Icahn's plans."
If Icahn had already bought a sizeable portion of Kodak's shares, he would have submitted a 13-D filing to the
Securities and Exchange Commission
, and no such filing has been made thus far.
In an interview with Reuters, Icahn said speculators should be wary about reading too much into the FTC approval. "Very often, a Hart-Scott is filed when a stock is 10% or more below what it is selling for when the Hart-Scott is announced," he told the news agency. The FTC approved the acquisition of Kodak's stock under the Hart-Scott Rodino antitrust law.
Nevertheless, analysts say the move shows interest in Kodak's shares, which are currently trading at less than 20 times trailing earnings and 0.5 times sales. Kodak moved up 32 cents, or 1.3%, to $24.53.
"I think there's a reasonable chance
the transition can be successful," Ghriskey said. "Is it the best thing for shareholders? Only time will tell."