It's no secret the billionaire has seen better days, performance-wise. According to data from iBillionaire, his total-return public equity portfolio lost 2.22% in 2014 but has gained 3.37% year-to-date.
In 2014, his publicly-traded fund, Icahn Enterprises (IEP) - Get Report, posted its first loss since 2008 -- an issue he acknowledged in a note to investors. "As I've said in the past, while I am extremely proud of our long-term record, there have always been sporadic speed bumps along the road," he wrote. "However, I believe over the long term, our model continues to be one of the best in the world." As recently as late February, Icahn said in a conference call that "it's hard to find good value" in the current stock market.
Lately, it looks like he has been coming upon more things in which he sees value. March regulatory filings revealed that Icahn had upped his positions in Chesapeake Energy (CHK) - Get Report, Voltari Corp. (VLTC) and Federal-Mogul Holdings (FDML) .
None has been performing particularly well recently. In fact, quite the opposite. So what is Carl Icahn seeing in these companies that others don't?
On March 23, Carl Icahn upped his position in Chesapeake Energy to more than 73 million shares. He now has an 11% stake in the company.
Icahn has been in on the Chesapeake Energy game for a while. He bought and sold the stock in 2010 but ultimately waited to make his big move on it until the second quarter of 2012, when he picked up 50 million shares. He has gradually built his position since, upping it to nearly 60 million shares in the fourth quarter of 2012 and boosting it again to 66.5 million shares during the third quarter of 2013, subsequently leaving it untouched until this most recent buy.
Since 2012, Icahn has watched this stock rise and fall. The stock has plunged as low as $13.38 and climbed as high as $31.49 in the past year alone. At market close yesterday, it was trading at $16.02 -- a far cry from the above-30 numbers it was hitting last June. Chesapeake slashed its 2015 capital budget and production outlook in late March, indicating a less-than-sunny horizon.
Some are wondering whether Carl Icahn is simply in too deep on Chesapeake, which could be the case, but may not be. After all, this isn't the first time the company has run into trouble -- three years ago, it appeared to be on the brink of bankruptcy.
What has Icahn hanging on? One possible clue comes in a January interview on CNBC.
The billionaire said he believed oil would continue to go down "unless there is some outside event" and warned that he "wouldn't rush in now on oil." In the same conversation, he said he sees a "tremendous opportunity" for when oil eventually rises. In upping the ante on Chesapeake, perhaps Carl Icahn is preparing for the opportunity he sees ahead.
Searching for evidence that the "Icahn lift" is alive and well? Look no farther than Voltari.
The mobile marketing and advertising solutions provider has popped more than 800% since Carl Icahn disclosed a 52.3% stake in it on March 31. It hit market close Wednesday trading at $8.37. A month ago, on March 16, it ended the day at $0.88.
Icahn first invested in Voltari during the second quarter of 2013, picking up 678,203 shares and maintaining them since. He has relatively quiet about his position in the company, even after this latest investment.
The billionaire already has quite a hand in Voltari's governance. At least three members of the firm's board of directors can be tied to Carl Icahn. Icahn Enterprises analyst Andrew Roberto sits on the Voltari board, as do James Nelson (director and member of the audit committee of Icahn Enterprises), Hunter Gary (Senior Vice President at IEP and Carl Icahn's son-in-law) and Brett Icahn (Carl Icahn's son).
With an increased stake in Voltari, Carl Icahn will have even more weight.
Federal-Mogul holdings has been on Carl Icahn's books for years, but he really began leaning into the investment in 2013. During the third quarter of that year, he upped his position to 121.1 million shares. This past March, he increased it again to 139.6 million -- an 82% stake.
Federal-Mogul dates back to 1899 and is headquartered just outside of Detroit. It supplies vehicle and industrial products for fuel economy, emissions reduction and safety systems.
Similar to Chesapeake and Voltari, Federal-Mogul Holdings hasn't been the best of performers recently. The company's stock fell 17.53% in 2014 and reached market close yesterday down 14.67% in 2015.
Federal-Mogul has consistently been among Carl Icahn's top holdings for quite some time, and as of the end of the fourth quarter was his No. 5 stake, behind Icahn Enterprises, Apple (AAPL) - Get Report, CVR Energy (CVI) - Get Report and eBay (EBAY) - Get Report. Icahn has served as the company's non-executive chairman of the board since January 2008 and as a director since December 2007.
As to why the billionaire is upping the ante now, it is not entirely clear. Since he disclosed the move on March 27, the stock has enjoyed a bit of a lift, having climbed nearly 6% through market close yesterday.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.