March 8, 2013
Icahn throws wrench in Dell works
Carl Icahn has been very busy over the past year. Now, he has moved on to Dell. In a letter to the board (see Sched 14A with lett and board response), Icahn made an offer to the board that he hopes they take - and then threatens to run a proxy contest and start "years of litigation" if they don't:
However, if this Board will not promise to implement our proposal in the event that the Dell shareholders vote down the Going Private Transaction, then we request that the Board announce that it will combine the vote on the Going Private Transaction with an annual meeting to elect a new board of directors. We then intend to run a slate of directors that, if elected, will implement our proposal for a leveraged recapitalization and $9 per share dividend at Dell, as set forth above. In that way shareholders will have a real choice between the Going Private Transaction and our proposal. To assure shareholders of the availability of sufficient funds for the prompt payment of the dividend, if our slate of directors is elected, Icahn Enterprises would provide a $2 billion bridge loan and I would personally provide a $3.25 billion bridge loan to Dell, each on commercially reasonable terms, if that bridge financing is necessary.
Like the “go shop” period provided in the Going Private Transaction, your fiduciary duties as directors require you to call the annual meeting as contemplated above in order to provide shareholders with a true alternative to the Going Private Transaction. As you know, last year’s annual meeting was held on July 13, 2012 (and indeed for the past 20 years Dell’s annual meetings have been held in this time frame) and so it would be appropriate to hold the 2013 annual meeting together with the meeting for the Going Private Transaction, which you have disclosed will be held in June or early July.
If you fail to agree promptly to combine the vote on the Going Private Transaction with the vote on the annual meeting, we anticipate years of litigation will follow challenging the transaction and the actions of those directors that participated in it. The Going Private Transaction is a related party transaction with the largest shareholder of the company and advantaging existing management as well, and as such it will be subject to intense judicial review and potential challenges by shareholders and strike suitors. But you have the opportunity to avoid this situation by following the fair and reasonable path set forth in this letter.
Now, I think he has a real point here. And that's the special dividend. He proposes the board use $7.4 billion in cash that it has covented to bring back from offshore to finance the going-private transaction as the main source of cash for the dividend. Think about it this way, there is a grand public policy discussion about corporate taxes and how the present structure of corporate taxes causes firms to stockpile cash off-shore. This cash has to be left there - the argument goes - lest it come back and be taxed at punitive rates.
OK, I am not going to take sides in that whole debate, but I will say this. Dell is content to leave it's large pile of cash offshore and away from the shareholders because of the tax issue. However, if the cash is necessary to finance an acquisition of the company by Michael Dell, well then, paying all those taxes to bring the cash back onshore isn't all that big a deal and is well worth the effort.
Icahn is pointing to that and saying in effect, "Hey, wait a minute. Why bring the cash back to finance a going private deal?! If Michael Dell is just buying cash with cash, doesn't that undervalue what's left of the company? Why not bring the cash back to the US, pay the taxes, and then distribute it to shareholders?"
I tend to sympathize with that view. If the taxes are really so onerous that the board has refused to bring the cash back until now, why isn't it a corporate waste to use them to finance a going-private transaction by the founder? The board will have to deal with that question at some point.
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