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Kirk Kerkorian Hearts Ford


What the legendary investor hopes to gain from significant stake in automaker.


Legendary investor Kirk Kerkorian and his investing arm Tracinda have been kicking the tires at Ford (F) for some time now. Last year Kerkorian offered to take Land Rover and Jaguar off of the automaker's hands; in April Tracinda reportedly bought some 100 million shares of the company's stock; and most recently Kerkorian announced the tender offer of 20 million shares at $8.50 - a pretty sweet premium to the current, roughly $6.10 stock price.

How was the offer received? Word has it that shareholders offered to sell him over one billion shares, well north of the 20 million he was seeking. There was, shall we say, a great deal of interest. And here's what can be gleaned from it:

The fact that so many shares were offered up would seem to suggest that shareholders don't have much confidence the stock will trade north of $8.50, at least not in the near term. To be fair, you really can't blame someone for wanting to unload the stock at this point. It has by and large traded under $10 since 2006 and a roughly 40% premium to the current valuation sounds attractive.

Which leads one to wonder exactly what Kerkorian sees in Ford. Bloomberg recently quoted him as saying, "[the company is] starting to achieve highly meaningful traction in its turnaround efforts." Clearly, he feels the automaker -- and chief executive Alan Mulally -- are headed down the right path.

But that's probably not all. There's so much bad news baked into this stock (and car companies in general) -- lower consumer spending, the rising cost of auto insurance, the potential for higher interest rates and still high gas prices -- he may be motivated by the prospect of scooping up shares on the cheap so he's sitting pretty when the economy rebounds.

And while Ford carries a massive debt load, Kerkorian may be looking past that and to the more than $11 per share in cash and equivalents the company sports, or the roughly $16 per share in property it boasts.

Another point of interest for Kerkorian: Insiders seem to have an interest in seeing Ford succeed. Per the company's proxy statement, Mulally was granted 250,000 performance-based stock options (subject to some conditions), which vest if the stock closes at $15, followed by another 250,000 at $20 and so on and so forth up to $30. How's that for incentive?

Finally, while Ford does have its share of big rigs (think the F-Series), it also owns a slew of very popular brands that seem to fit with the prevailing trend toward smaller vehicles. Its Volvo and Mazda brands come to mind, and the the smallish Ford Focus and Fusion stand to benefit given the cost of gas. Maybe Kerkorian just believes the automaker is in a better position to adapt than, say, General Motors (GM), which is bogged down with behemoths like Cadillac, Hummer and GMC.

It's not entirely clear what Kerkorian is up to, but based on the amount of stock he's taking in, he appears optimistic about what the future holds.

Ford closed at $6.12, down 24 cents or about 3.7%, in trading Tuesday. The shares gained two cents in after-hours trading.

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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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