Hey Loeb, Buffett has my back: Dow Chemical CEO
Dow Chemical Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris told CNBC on Wednesday that Warren Buffett supports his vision for the company.
The Buffett praise comes as activist investor Daniel Loeb is putting pressure on Dow to spin off its lucrative but slow-growing petrochemical unit and focus on specialty materials.
Liveris revealed in a "Squawk Box" interview that he met with Buffett this week, and the Berkshire Hathaway boss said: "'We're an owner and we like being an owner. And frankly, we think you've been running the company for the investors who will stay versus the investors who will leave.'"
A Buffett representative confirmed this exchange.
In 2008, Berkshire Hathaway helped to finance Dow's deal to buy specialty chemical maker Rohm and Haas for over $15 billion in cash. Berkshire contributed an equity investment of $3 billion worth of convertible preferred securities.
Liveris said he and Buffett are working together "on the best way to do those preferreds, [which] is to let them earn themselves out. He's in the money. He's now an equity investor. ... When it gets to $53.70, they will disappear."
In response to Loeb, Liveris said, "We're open to all ideas, to all shareholders." In a letter to his investors last week, Loeb wrote about his ideas for the petrochemical spinoff, and revealed that Dow is now the largest holding of his $14 billion hedge fund, Third Point.
"We've completed a very thorough strategic review of our company these last 18 months … [and] we came up with lots of conclusions that are not dissimilar to some of the suggestions we've read in that letter," Liveris said. "We've spun out, sold and divested over $10 billion of commodity businesses in the last five years. And now on December 2, [we] announced another $4 billion to $5 billion with Dow's oldest business, the chlorine business. That's $15 billion when you add it all up. So that's a remake of the company in a very big way."
Liveris said he has yet to meet with Loeb. "We've tried a few times. And we're getting our schedules organized. I look forward to it."
But he wanted to assure Loeb and other shareholders that Dow and its board have "looked at every single option" to unlock value for investors.
Loeb's Third Point didn't immediately respond to a request by CNBC for comment.
Liveris said that momentum out of the fourth quarter "was very strong." Dow Chemical announced on Wednesday that it earned 65 cents a share, excluding one-time items. Wall Street estimates had called for 43 cents a share. Revenue of $14.39 billion also beat expectations.
Liveris said that 35 percent of Dow's revenue comes from emerging markets, which have been under serious pressure since last week. But he does not expect the recent downturn to slow Dow's emerging markets businesses.
"Where we said we'd go with emerging markets 12 months ago is ... where the growth is," he said. "Our large investments in the Middle East, the big Saudi investment for example ... will start producing profits in a very big way next year."
Dow also said Wednesday that it plans to increase its quarterly dividend by 15 percent to 37 cents a share and expand its stock buyback program from $1.5 billion to $4.5 billion.
Rival DuPont—the target of activist investor Nelson Peltz—said Tuesday that it's going to buy back $5 billion in stock, after reporting quarterly profits above estimates.