High Yield with Icahn

10/22/2013 8:00 am EST


Igor Greenwald

Chief Investment Strategist, MLP Profits

One of the most successful money managers is paying investors a 6.6% yield for the privilege of multiplying their money, asserts Igor Greenwald, editor of MLP Profits.

I'm describing, of course, Carl Icahn, who's known for raiding cash-rich and mismanaged companies. His savvy picks are working out great for investors who hold shares of Icahn Enterprises (IEP).

Better still, IEP is a master limited partnership, with all the tax-deferred benefits of a boring pipeline company.

Icahn Enterprises isn't boring. The man can't seem to live without drama, whether it's dressing down Ackman regarding Herbalife (HLF) or trying to take Dell (DELL) away from Michael Dell.

But the truth is, Icahn Enterprises has turned into a cash machine because Icahn bought on the cheap, less famous companies throwing off under-appreciated profits.

He paid $30 a share for refiner and fertilizer maker CVR Energy (CVI) and that stock has appreciated 43% in 18 months, earning Icahn a total return of $2.9 billion through June.

More than a decade ago, Icahn paid pennies on the dollar for the unsecured bonds of Federal-Mogul (FDML), an auto parts supplier then mired in an asbestos-related bankruptcy. Today, his stake is worth nearly $2 billion.

A majority stake in casino operator Tropicana Entertainment (TPCA) also began with a Chapter 11 restructuring.

From January 1, 2000 to June 10, 2013, Icahn Enterprises has averaged a 20% annual return, multiplying investors' money nearly 12-fold. Berkshire-Hathaway (BRK-B) has managed only a triple over the same span.

With typical modesty, Icahn let slip earlier this year that he's felt under-appreciated relative to the Oracle of Omaha. Maybe that's why Icahn Enterprises, which has traditionally paid a piddly distribution, ramped it up to a $1 per share, per quarter, earlier this year and $1.25 more recently.

At the current share price, that works out to a 6.6% yield. Not bad coming from a guy who's beaten Buffett pretty consistently.

The stock is up 70% year-to-date and 36% since April. Icahn still owns 90% of Icahn Enterprises, and Forbes pegged his net worth earlier this year at $20 billion.

And despite the generous dividend yield and the big gains this year, Icahn Enterprises has a lot of unspent firepower.

It earned $331 million in net income attributable to the partnership during the first half of the year, and adding back $224 million in depreciation and amortization suggests minimum cash flow of $555 million.

At the current $1.25 per quarter distribution rate, distributions for six months amount to $288 million. So the distribution coverage is roughly two. Cash and investments exceed debt, which fell in the most recent quarter, even as the cash balance rose.

All this, including the suddenly large yield, is part of Icahn's plan to unlock even more value he claims is being held hostage by self-interested corporate executives and boards.

Like any complicated business story, this one is not without risks and there's no guarantee that 6.6% yield will stay around. This is a speculative capital appreciation play, and not an MLP you'd want to buy and forget.

Still, even an insecure payout this large to invest alongside one of the all-time greats is no chopped liver. We're adding it to our Aggressive Portfolio.

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