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Kerkorian And Ford: Why Does He Want Bigger Stake In Company?

Kirk Kerkorian
AP
Kirk Kerkorian

How's this for an intriguing move. Tracinda Corp., the investment firm representing the vast interests of billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian is tendering an offer to take a greater stake in Ford Motor Company.

Tracinda's offer to buy 20 million shares at $8.50 a share (about 1 percent of outstanding shares) is intriguing for a variety of reasons.

First: What's Kerkorian's game plan? Historically, he's an activist shareholder who takes substantial positions in companies he finds undervalued. Once he gets enough leverage, he usually wants a say in the company's future plans. The idea is push management to make a move, like a merger or major divestiture, in order to raise the stock price and, if things go as planned, provide a handsome payoff for Tracinda.

Which brings up the second point: for things to go as planned, Tracinda needs a big position. This offer would give his company another 1 percent stake in Ford. Not enough to make major noise.

Third:: Even if he wanted to force some action at Ford , Kerkorian's position is limited by the fact the Ford family controls the voting stock. He'd need dissent within the family for that to change. Is it possible he knows some of the Fords are itching for change and might throw their weight behind Kerkorian? Maybe, though I doubt that's likely.

So why is he buying Ford now?

As usual, Tracinda is unlikely to tip its hand for a while, but eventually it will. It could be Kerkorian sees Ford as an underperforming company on the cusp of a major bounce with its turnaround gaining traction. Given his track record, I'm not sure I buy that he's simply taking a stake and waiting to ride a wave.

One thing is certain, Kerkorian and Tracinda just added an intriguing new factor to Ford's turnaround adventure.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com

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