Energy Business

What Icahn Wants From Cheniere Investment

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Activist investor Carl Icahn disclosed on Thursday the acquisition of 19.4 million shares of stock in Cheniere Energy Inc. (NYSEMKT: LNG), about 8.2% of the company’s outstanding shares. Shares were acquired by a number of funds controlled by Icahn, and the total amount paid for the stake in Cheniere was slightly more than $1 billion.

Cheniere is close to opening its Sabine Pass liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal and making its first shipment of LNG later this year.

In the filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Icahn said he believes that Cheniere’s shares are undervalued and that he “intends to have discussions” with the company’s management and board of directors related to “operations, capital expenditures, financings, and executive compensation.” Icahn may also seek representation on the board of directors, according to the filing.

One could argue that Icahn is setting up an end-to-end play in natural gas. In May he upped his stake in battered natural gas and oil producer Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE: CHK) to 11% when he paid $14.15 per share for 6.6 million shares of Chesapeake stock. Neither the investment in Chesapeake or Cheniere appears to be a break-up play, but rather a value play.

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If, as Icahn appears to believe, both Chesapeake and Cheniere are undervalued, now may be a good time to try to exert some influence on the natural gas export industry. Chesapeake is sitting on a lot of natural gas and Cheniere has a plant that is ready to convert that gas to LNG and ship it to customers who have paid up to six times as much for a million BTUs as have domestic U.S. buyers.

What Icahn brings to the party, in his view, is disciplined spending that will allow for larger cash allocations to dividends and buybacks. Maybe that’s true, but maybe it isn’t. Cheniere’s CEO, Charif Souki, is also the company’s founder, and he has pulled the company back from the edge of disaster more than once and now has it positioned for a solid win.

Exactly how Carl Icahn adds value to Cheniere’s management is not immediately apparent. Icahn’s investments in Chesapeake, refiner and fertilizer maker CVR Energy Inc. (NYSE: CVI) and offshore driller Transocean Ltd. (NYSE: RIG) led to an annual loss of $373 million in 2014 for Icahn Enterprises L.P. (NASDAQ: IEP).

Both Chesapeake and Cheniere are saddled with high levels of long-term debt and their cash flows depend heavily on commodity prices. Natural gas trades for less than $3 per thousand cubic feet currently and, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global demand for natural gas is declining and so are prices.

Icahn has made another sizable bet on energy at a time when the industry is taking a severe beating. If his timing is right, he could post another large score. If it’s not, he might wish he had bought more shares of Apple instead.

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