Activist Carl Icahn Seeks Seats on FirstEnergy’s Board

Activist investor Carl Icahn is in discussions with FirstEnergy Corp. about potentially taking two seats on the board of the utility, according to people familiar with the matter.

The billionaire investor has built a sizable stake in FirstEnergy and is focused on helping the company put a federal corruption scandal and other issues behind it to narrow the valuation gap between FirstEnergy and its peers, the people said, asking not to be identified because the matter is private. Icahn isn’t seeking control of the board, in part, because the utility sector is so heavily regulated when its comes to changes of control, they said.

Talks are ongoing between the parties and may still fall apart, the people said.

Shares in FirstEnergy rose more than 2% in early trading Tuesday.

Activist Carl Icahn Seeks Seats on FirstEnergy’s Board

Icahn has a history of helping companies navigate through challenging times, including famously defending Herbalife Nutrition Ltd. against fellow activist investor Bill Ackman, who was shorting its shares.

A representative for Icahn declined to comment. A representative for FirstEnergy wasn’t immediately available for comment.

In February, Icahn notified FirstEnergy that he intended to acquire a stake valued at $184 million to $920 million. FirstEnergy at the time said it didn’t know whether the billionaire investor had already acquired any shares or derivatives, or what his intentions were. It’s unclear what the size of Icahn’s stake is now.

FirstEnergy has been embroiled in a federal corruption case since last summer. It involves the arrest of ex-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four political associates accused of taking about $61 million in bribes to secure a bailout for nuclear plants owned by a former FirstEnergy unit.

The company has since fired its chief executive officer and other senior executives and had its credit rating downgraded.

FirstEnergy later disclosed that former executives had violated company policies over a $4 million payment for a consulting agreement tied to someone who was later appointed as an Ohio state regulator. A day after the disclosure, Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairman Sam Randazzo resigned from his position.

There is now meaningful room for FirstEnergy’s shares to re-rate after trading at a substantial discount to its peers -- even before its legal issues arose in mid-2020 -- and with a visible path to resolve the issues in Ohio, said Julien Dumoulin-Smith, an analyst with Bank of America Corp. Dumoulin-Smith wrote in a note to clients Tuesday that Icahn’s increasing involvement in FirstEnergy is a key angle to watch.

He raised his price target to $37 a share from $32, and raised his rating to a buy from neutral.

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