NEW YORK: Billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn said the strong rally in U.S. stocks since Donald Trump captured the White House last week might be overdone, but that investors can expect the president-elect to be a consensus builder who can help fix Washington and improve the economy.
“When it runs up like this, I scale off a little bit,” Icahn said on Wednesday at the Reuters Global Investment Outlook Summit, referring to the U.S. stock market. “But that doesn’t mean that I am that negative or positive.”
Icahn was once known as a corporate raider, in particular for his hostile takeover of TWA in 1985, but in recent years has become a major shareholder activist. Forbes magazine on Wednesday estimated his net worth at $16.2 billion.
Now 80, Icahn was an early and prominent supporter of Trump’s successful White House run, in which the Republican defeated Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Icahn said on Wednesday he is confident that Trump can help undo the “stagnation” in the United States and its economy, which dominance of the Washington “establishment” has fostered.
“We have a perception that the government is at war with business,” Icahn said. “The point I think about Donald is he’s a consensus builder, he’s a very smart guy.”
Icahn confirmed that he left what became Trump’s victory party in the early morning on Nov. 9 to bet about $1 billion on U.S. equities.
He called the knee-jerk overnight plunge in stocks, as it became clearer to investors that Trump might win, “crazy” and “unique,” and that it created a buying opportunity.
LESS REGULATION, MORE BUSINESS
Icahn expects Trump to fulfill his promise to reduce regulatory burdens on business, including Dodd-Frank financial reforms that “went too far.”
But Icahn said some financial regulation remained necessary, to stop Wall Street, which was “greatly to blame” for the 2008 global financial crisis, from causing another calamity.
Icahn remained upbeat about some of his own investments, saying the insurer American International Group Inc (AIG.N) remained undervalued even after recent asset sales he urged.
He also said Herbalife Inc (HLF.N), whose prospects he has debated for years with William Ackman, a hedge fund manager who calls the nutritional products company a Ponzi scheme, remained undervalued after it agreed in July to restructure its business and pay $200 million to end a Federal Trade Commission probe.
But Icahn said his Icahn Enterprise LP (IEP.O) may withdraw its $9.25 per share tender offer for Federal-Mogul Holdings Corp (FDML.O) if too few investors sign on. That caused shares of the auto parts maker to fall 4.7 percent to $9.46.
POOR KID FROM QUEENS
Icahn, who said he has posted 28 percent annualized returns as an investor, says he regularly talks with legislators in Washington, who complain that the current system prevents them from getting things done.
“It’s just a major problem,” said Icahn, who like Trump is from New York. “I was a poor kid from Queens and I made all this money. I love the country, it’s just a lot of the people I don’t like.”
Icahn likened the potential for Trump to succeed to President Lyndon Johnson’s success in getting civil rights laws passed in his early White House years.
“Donald is going to surround himself with some very good people,” Icahn said. “He’ll be a guy to do what you need to build consensus. He’ll do it like Lyndon Johnson did it. Who would have thought Lyndon Johnson could get the Civil Rights Act through?”
Icahn hopes that critics of Trump will come around, recognizing the number of voters whose ballots reflected their dissatisfaction with business as usual in Washington.
“There are so many unhappy people around, and the reason they’re unhappy is the stagnation,” he said. “That’s why I think, even those that really don’t like Trump personally, should give him a shot.”
(Additional reporting by Michael Flaherty and Svea Herbst-Bayliss in New York; Editing by Chris Reese, Matthew Lewis and Bernard Orr)