Icahn Swaps Apple for Xerox

Last August, in an article I wrote for Smart Tech Investor (now Breakthrough Tech Profits), I posited, “Is Icahn Selling Apple?” I figured that Icahn needed to raise cash to cover huge losses in his energy portfolio. I also questioned how much longer he and Apple CEO Tim Cook would play nice in public given Icahn’s meddling presence was clearly unwelcome. My guess was he would find another company to invest in where he could have the boardroom clout he so desires.

It turns out I was right. On Thursday during an interview with CNBC, Icahn acknowledged that he no longer owns any Apple. However, instead of blaming oil’s crash or frustration with Cook, Icahn pointed his finger directly at China and Apple’s problems there. Perhaps he learned this tactic from his good friend and serial China-basher Donald Trump, who has said that he would like Mr. Icahn to consider being the U.S. Treasury Secretary should Trump become president (an overture Icahn has resoundingly rejected).

Icahn claims he booked a $2 billion profit from his Apple trade, some of which he immediately plowed back into troubled tech company Xerox (XRX), which saw its share price drop 13% on Monday after announcing disappointing earnings. Right now Icahn probably wishes he was still in Apple, given Apple saw its share price drop only 6% on Wednesday after its earnings also disappointed. I should point out that both companies are current holdings in the Personal Finance Growth Portfolio, so either way I think Icahn will make out okay on his investment.

In the short run I think Icahn made a smart move. Xerox is in the process of dividing into two companies, separating its legacy document technology business from its business process outsourcing division. This should be finished before the end of this year, at which time each company will begin trading independently. These types of breakups have become increasingly popular on Wall Street since they allow institutional investors to concentrate money in a specific type of business rather than spreading it among different businesses, which are harder for them to evaluate.

Typically in such cases one of the new companies’ stock rises because it’s no longer burdened by its underperforming cousin, which drops in value. However, usually the combined value of both post-split exceeds their value pre-split. If Icahn’s hunch proves correct, in a year he should realize a handsome gain.

However, long term I think Apple is the better investment. Clearly it has challenges in China that will hamper sales in the near term, but Apple has virtually unlimited funds to invent more innovative products and continue to be a wealth machine.  Xerox, on the other hand, was forced to split given weakness in its core structure.

Icahn’s maneuvering illustrates the advantage of pursuing a disciplined strategy to stock market investing. He made a lot of money in Apple and lost a lot in energy, including Chesapeake Energy, but he never wavered from his single-minded approach of investing in companies that he believes carry unrealized shareholder value. He isn’t always right, but on his winners far outnumber his losers.

We have no way of knowing yet if Icahn’s swap of Xerox for Apple was a smart move, but I’m sure that won’t change his behavior one bit. It’s no coincidence that every great investor shares a similar mindset. Warren Buffett admits to frequently making mistakes, but views them as the cost of building his financial empire. Even legendary mutual fund manager Peter Lynch, he of the 29% average annual return over fourteen years, has often said that you only need to be right 60% of the time to make a lot of money in stocks.

That’s why at Personal Finance all of our portfolio managers maintain a disciplined approach to buying and selling stocks. Even though the overall stock market has gone nowhere over the past fifteen months, just this week we booked profits of 16.9%, 23.5% and 153% in our Income Portfolio. And just like Mr. Icahn, we are always happy to take a gain and roll that money into the next opportunity.