Business as usual for activist Icahn with Family Dollar stake

Jeff Macke

You can't keep a good raider down. Shares of Family Dollar (FDO) shot up 10% in after hours trading on Friday after Carl Icahn disclosed a 9.4% stake in the company. Icahn says he's seeking board seats and hopes to push the company into a merger, ideally with Dollar General (DG).

The news comes just a week after Icahn was linked to an investigation into insider trading involving golfer Phil Mickelson and Las Vegas gambler Billy Walters.

In his filing Icahn lists the details of his Family Dollar position. As it turns out, the vast majority of the holding comes in the form of options. Specifically, Icahn bought calls and sold puts. He spent a total of $265 million accumulating the voting rights equivalent to about $690 million worth of stock. It's complicated but just know that if Family Dollar opens where it was trading after the bell, Icahn will have created about $70 million for himself and his partners. That's roughly a 20% return on an investment, just for a filing and a press release.

None of this is remotely illegal. It's not even a fresh idea. Icahn is joining several activist bodies on the Family Dollar investment including Nelson Peltz and Paulson & Co. Together this threesome has 20% of Family Dollar.

So while regulators pretend like Phil Mickelson and Billy Walters are part of some insider trading scheme, the *real* money is being made in plain sight. It's not on a golf course but in board rooms and the stakes are much higher than you'd see on any silly casino floor.

As the U.S. Open gets under way this week this calls to mind a famous golf quote. When asked to assess Jack Nicklaus' game, Bobby Jones said the Golden Bear "plays a game with which I'm not familiar." The same could obviously be said of Icahn and the regulators seeking headlines and winding up with face full of sand.

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