eBay’s fourth-quarter and year-end earnings report included an extra dash of drama along with the numbers: high-profile investor Carl Icahn nominated two of his employees to the company’s board of directors and submitted a non-binding proposal to spin off PayPal into a separate company.
It seemed to be a bit of a blindside for the ecommerce company, as Icahn — who owns shares in numerous companies, including Apple and Herbalife — managed to acquire shares and derivative securities to give him a 0.82 percent stake in the company just earlier this month.
Despite Icahn’s urging, the earnings report indicated that eBay isn’t interested:
Regarding Mr. Icahn’s separation proposal, eBay’s Board of Directors routinely assesses the company’s strategic direction and has explored in depth a spinoff or separation of PayPal. eBay’s Board of Directors has concluded that the company and its shareholders are best served by the current strategic direction of the company and does not believe that breaking up the company is the best way to maximize shareholder value
Icahn backed up his advice, insinuating that the management is interfering with the board at eBay — and possibly affecting overall growth:
“I don’t want to say anything bad at this time about eBay, but they certainly don’t have the record that Amazon does,” Icahn said. “Certainly, earnings have been going up, but they’ve been flat.”
eBay acquired PayPal back in 2002 for $1.5 billion, and the payments company performs well alongside its ecommerce parent — bringing in $6.6 billion in revenue in 2013 compared to eBay’s $8.3 billion. While eBay’s 2013 report was optimistic about overall sales and performance during the holiday (which was a fear during the company’s Q3 report in October of 2013), it certainly didn’t accelerate in the way that the company expected, ending the year on the lower end of its projections. It’s clear, though, that PayPal is outmatching in both growth and overall revenue. Icahn wants to swoop in, and he thinks he knows best.
“I don’t think their guidance is all that great,” he said of eBay’s current Board of Directors.
At the eBay earnings call today, eBay CEO John Donahoe reiterated the company’s stance on keeping its companies together, citing the benefits in growth, data and security between the two platforms. Donahoe said that eBay’s shedding of Skype in 2011 is proof that the company can make major decisions with its acquisitions, but there’s more to the fact that PayPal is working well — it’s a key investment in the coming years.
“Separation may seem like a compelling concept at first blush, but when you separate two intertwined and highly performing businesses, it increases distraction and dyssynergy,” Donahoe added. “We can’t afford distraction.”
It appears that Icahn now has two major board battles on his hands — one with eBay and the other with Apple.
This article was updated to include quotes from the eBay earnings call.