LAST APRIL when I interviewed the usually bearish corporate raider Carl Icahn, he turned out to be more profane than prophetic. With the Dow at 3,693, he said a 1,000-point drop was a distinct possibility within 12 months. Instead the Dow rose. Still, '94 was a lousy year for many investors. And Icahn remains as unabashed as he is bearish.
"Let the market begin to turn down and who knows how low is low," he insists. "I'd stay the hell out of (stock) mutual funds. I could see a bloodbath."
His big worry: We're in for more rate hikes that will finally put the kibosh on the economy. "We could get a mild recession," he says, "and there go all those (expletive deleted) earnings estimates on Wall Street."
Mutual funds bug him, too: "It's crazy that so many people have put their individual savings into stock mutual funds."
"Too many money managers are wet behind the ears," he argues. "They all have the same (expletive deleted) mentality. They buy, buy, buy. Many have never seen a bear market. And if we get one, they'll run for the (expletive deleted) exits, and all hell will break loose. All you need is the public turning off the mutual-fund buying spigot."
So fund investors should ask: "Is it better to get 3 percent or 4 percent in the bank or lose 30 percent in their stock investments?
In fact, he rates most stocks overpriced, based on what he says are excessive book values, inflated price/earnings multiples and puny dividend yields. Especially over-the-counter stocks, including many recent initial public offerings. While 1994's initial public offerings are up an average of 10 percent this year and 1995's are up about 12 percent, Icahn says: "The prices are absurd, almost laughable. The stocks have been so hyped by investment bankers that they've almost become Ponzi schemes."
Reflecting his bleak view of stocks, Icahn is betting his substantial bucks that prices will fall by selling short. I hear he made a recent killing by shorting Cyrk, a $166 million Massachusetts outfit that makes promotional items such as T-shirts and caps. And he's still short, I'm told.
Overall, I hear he's up more than 15 percent so far this year, after making $300 million from 1989 to 1993 mostly in junk bonds.
His parting advice to the average investor: "Play it safe. Buy some corporate bonds and move to the sidelines."
And what if investors insist on holding on to their stocks and funds? Icahn's terse response: "Let 'em pray!"
Michael Eisner, Disney's market-focused CEO, is out touting the stock harder than usual. His aim, according to insiders, is to fatten the stock price as a prelude to making a renewed run at CBS. Eisner recently told analysts that he had no intention of diluting Disney stock with an acquisition of a pricey network. He specifically said he does not want to make CBS chief Laurence Tisch, or General Electric chief executive officer Jack Welch, any richer.
Yet Disney insiders insist Eisner craves CBS as much as Mickey Mouse craves Minnie. What's more, he has insisted to intimates privately that he thinks he has a shot at landing the network. One problem, however, is that both Tisch and Eisner like to buy a dollar for a nickel, so a meeting of the minds won't be easy.
In addition, Time Warner's decision to sell its 21 percent stake in Turner Broadcasting could free founder Ted Turner to again pursue CBS as well. And yet another potential CBS suitor is QVC Network's restless boss Barry Diller. Now that Comcast and Tele-Communications are taking over QVC, Diller is reportedly angling to run CBS one way or another.
One story has Diller trying to put together a $5 billion buyout package for CBS. And another rumor has him joining Disney, under the right circumstances, of course. Disney's response: No comment. Diller also declined comment.
This just in
Informed speculators tell me Apple Computer (around $38) will be acquired by Oracle Systems or IBM before year-end. The price: about $60 a share