Carl Icahn has continued his efforts to separate eBay and PayPal by publishing yet another open letter alleging fiduciary misconduct by the company’s board of directors. [Disclosure: Icahn's complaints focus on Marc Andreessen, a personal investor in Pando.] The letter is simply the latest development in Icahn’s back-and-forth with eBay that includes a number of open letters, public statements, and interviews with the press.
The conflict has actually become quite formulaic. First Icahn publishes an invective open letter repeating claims he’s already made; then eBay responds with a measured response to those claims; and then the entire process repeats itself, until Icahn gets his way or gives up. The only variations involve the number of underlined words Icahn includes in his letter and the person responding on eBay’s behalf.
But that doesn’t mean that the popcorn-worthy battle between the two has become boring. In fact, if the opening statement on Icahn’s latest letter is to be believed, things might soon become pretty interesting — and might inspire some to actually microwave some popcorn:
eBay has challenged us to focus on honest, accurate debate. We do not believe eBay is serious about this. However, yesterday CNBC offered a public forum for that debate. We immediately told CNBC we would be happy to do it, but we doubt eBay will accept its own challenge. We will soon find out. At this moment, not surprising to us, eBay has not responded. We eagerly await their reply.
A television appearance might be the best thing for eBay shareholders, even if neither side agrees on PayPal’s future. Icahn boosted Apple’s stock price with a single tweet; making his case and arguing with eBay’s board of directors on live television might do the same for eBay.
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Reuters’ Breaking Views columnist Robert Cyran supports Icahn’s efforts:
EBay’s users and online auctions have helped PayPal grow. That’s important, because payment networks become more useful for both buyers and sellers the larger they become. The most recent example was mobile. In 2010, 80 percent of PayPal’s nascent mobile business came from eBay apps. Three years later, PayPal’s mobile payments volume had increased more than fortyfold, to $27 billion.
EBay argues that separating the two would rip PayPal from this rich source of business. It points out that 30 percent of new PayPal users come from eBay. If anything, though, this shows that PayPal has grown too big for its parent. A majority of its new customers come from outside eBay’s walls. Giving the unit independence might attract even more. Retailers like Amazon might be more willing to work with PayPal if it weren’t owned by an e-commerce rival.
Ebay shares have soared since Icahn released an open letter attacking the company on February 24th. Since the first letter, eBay shares have jumped more than 7.5% percent. That’s resulted in a paper gain of about $450 million for Omidyar, eBay’s founder, chairman and–with more than 105 million shares–eBay’s largest stake holder.
Icahn, who owns about 2% of eBay, has made roughly $108 million since releasing his letter to Ebay Share holders in which he accused eBay’s board members (Marc Andreessen and Scott Cook) of placing their interests ahead of shareholders, and competing directly against eBay. Icahn wants two board seats, and is pressing eBay to spin off its fast-growing PayPal division.
MarketWatch’s Rex Crum compares Icahn to Muhammad Ali:
Maybe Carl Icahn is both a boxing and history buff?
After all, it was 50 years ago this week [Feb. 25, to be precise] that Muhammad Ali, who was then known as Cassius Clay, went into the ring in Miami and defeated the heavyweight champ of the world, Sonny Listen, in a six-round TKO.
Why else would Icahn use this week, in particular, to start a knockdown, drag-out brawl with e-commerce giant eBay?
Pando weighs in
I wrote about the spat between Icahn and eBay’s board on Monday and noted the irony in the billionaire investor’s accusations:
In other words, Icahn, a vulture capitalist-slash-activist investor who purchases large portions of companies before bullying them into “unlocking shareholder value” at the company’s expense, is condemning members of eBay’s board for allegedly using their position to make money at the detriment of the company. That’s irony that could be cut with a dull knife someone stole from their great-grandmother and then turned around and sold on eBay.
[Image courtesy Insider Monkey]