Ford Motors seems to have found a new believer in its turnaround story, and Armenian-American billionaire, investor Kerkor "Kirk" Kerkorian, president of Tracinda Corporation, his private holding company based in Beverly Hills, California, is willing to stake billions in that belief.
Just a few days after the auto major surprised Wall Street analysts with an unexpected $100 million quarterly profit (See: Ford confounds analysts, posts $100 million profit in first quarter), news has come that Kerkorian's private investment vehicle Tracinda Corporation intends to make a cash tender offer for up to 20 million shares of the company at a price of $8.50 per share.
Tracinda, named after the billionaire's daughters Tracy and Linda, already owns 100 million shares or 4.7 per cent of Dearborn, Michigan- based Ford Motors. The offer price represents a 13.3 per cent premium over Ford's closing price of $7.50 yesterday, and the news has already sent the price soaring by 11 per cent in pre-market trading.
''We welcome confidence in Ford and the progress we are making on our transformation plan," Bill Ford executive chairman, and Alan Mulally, president and CEO, Ford Motor Co, said in a statement, "Any investor can purchase Ford shares, which are sold on the open market. The Ford team remains focused on executing our plan to transform Ford into a lean global enterprise delivering profitable growth for all.''
If the offer were completed, Tracinda would hold 5.6 per cent of the outstanding share capital. The firm had bought the initial 100 million shares at an average price of about $6.91 per share, making Kerkorian Ford's fourth-biggest shareholder.
This announcement marks the latest chapter in the investor's continued association with American auto companies. He held a 9.9-per cent stake in General Motors Corp at one time but sold that stake in 2006, when GM rejected his proposed tie-up with Nissan Motor Co and Renault.
Last year he made a $4.58-billion bid to buy Chrysler but lost out to private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, who acquired 80 per cent of the company for $7.4 billion.
In a major show of confidence in the current Ford management, Tracinda said the automaker under chief executive officer Alan Mulally is ''starting to achieve highly meaningful traction in its turnaround efforts.'' It also applauded the company's recent results where it posted a $100 million first-quarter profit last week ''despite the difficult US economic environment.''
It also predicted a better future by stating that Ford under Mulally ''will continue to show significant improvements in its results going forward.''
Ford Motors is a closely held company, where Henry Ford's descendants hold 40 per cent voting power through its 71 million Class B shares. The family has two members on the automaker's board of directors, Bill Ford and his cousin, Edsel Ford II, both great-grandsons of founder Henry Ford. Bill Ford was chief executive officer from 2001 until September 2006, when he recruited Mulally from Boeing Co. to succeed him.
Since then, Mulally has tried to turn things around by pruning costs and concentrating more on the core American market, even selling off many of the company's prized, but loss-making assets. This has reflected in the balance sheet and the company expects to return to the black next year. (Also see: Ford awards CEO Alan Mulally $21.7 million for cutting losses by $10 billion)
Kerkorian is known as one of the important figures in shaping the city of Las Vegas. His Lincy Foundation, also named after his daughter like Tracinda, has donated millions to charitable causes. As of 2008, he is estimated to be worth $16 billion, making him the 41st richest man in the world.