The Billionaire Battle over Anadarko
The deal was born out of Occidental’s board preferring to bypass an extraordinary shareholder meeting, wherein which the initial deal would have required a change of the Company Charter and a slim chance at a passing vote. Enter the second billionaire to the mix: Carl Icahn.
After getting wind of the deal, Icahn launched a lawsuit against Oxy on the grounds that the proposed acquisition was “fundamentally misguided and hugely overpriced.” There may be some truth to his assertion, with Oxy opening nearly 6% lower after the acquisition announcement.
Icahn accused Buffett of exploiting Oxy’s need for cash. Buffett is set to receive an 8% yield, far above Oxy’s pre-bidding 4.7%. This equates to a pre-tax cost of debt of around 10%, which is three times Oxy’s bond yield, and would put the company debt up to USD 40 billion.
In addition, Chevron decided against a counteroffer for Anandarko; thus, the company must now pay USD 1 billion in breakup fees to Chevron. It is also critical to note that this comes at a time when shareholders are calling for spending cuts and improved dividends.
As such, and perhaps the most glaring issue in the governance field, is the clear bypassing of shareholders’ voice by attempting to avoid an Extraordinary General Meeting of Shareholders (EGM).
Because of Buffett’s funding, Hollub and Oxy were able to exclude shareholder votes (as aforementioned). According to Icahn, this move was “disturbing” and “usurped the fundamental and critical role of the stockholders.”
Icahn, acting as the poster child for agitated shareholders, is calling for a restructuring of the board with seats of his own in order to ensure that Oxy acts in the best interest of shareholders. It seems apparent that the market and shareholders alike strongly disagree.
In current market conditions, Icahn has stated that the deal is a bet on the price of oil. Should oil prices fall below USD 45 per barrel, Occidental could be forced to cut dividends and once again defy shareholders. In turn, both Icahn and T. Rowe Price have agreed that the potential to put stockholder dividends at risk should first be cleared with the stockholders themselves.
An analysis of Occidental’s board, using CGLytics’ board effective and insights tool, yields telling results.
Occidental’s board lacks significant expertise in two key areas extremely relevant to the recent deal; Financial and Industry/Sector. While there are a few financial experts, Audit and Capital Management skills particularly stand out as lacking in board discussions. Further, the lack of Financial expertise may certainly have ineffectively prepared the board to examine management’s agenda as well as properly evaluating the financial implications that come with the deal. Additionally, the Industry and Sector expertise appears inadequate; especially when considering the size of this acquisition.
The hotbed of disagreement over the deal is sure to play out in the coming weeks. It is possible that Hollub and Oxy avoided shareholder approval of such an acquisition of this scale because of the risk of disapproval at an EGM. Notwithstanding, Oxy resolved this issue by consulting Buffett.
Buffett saw opportunity arise out of the Company’s dilemma and divvied out premium funding. Now, Icahn demands a justification and correction of this supposed breach in shareholder rights. Following Icahn’s demand, Oxy will be holding a shareholder meeting on August 8th to determine the sentiment on this year’s biggest oil and gas deal. It is improbable that Icahn will win out on a lawsuit of this magnitude, especially when asking to gain seats on the board to prevent such deals in the future; but then again, it was equally unexpected that Occidental would attempt a merger with Anadarko.
Corporate boards and executive teams increasingly require insights and analytical tools to identify any potential areas of reputational risk. Without this oversight, companies may be targets of activist campaigns and cannot proactively prepare.
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