(Bloomberg) – Carl Icahn, who won representation to the board of American International Group Inc. after threatening a proxy battle, said he’s warming to the approach of the insurer’s chief executive officer.
“Peter Hancock and I don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but I really think that he and I see eye-to-eye on what they should be doing at AIG,” Icahn said Tuesday in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “I supported him just recently, when a few people were really wanting me to really go to battle.”
Icahn applauded AIG’s agreement on Monday to sell its mortgage guarantor for $3.4 billion. He said Hancock should focus on buying back shares, exiting lower-performing businesses and selling some life insurance assets, which is the strategy the CEO has been pursuing. The praise marks a shift from February, when the activist faulted Hancock’s plan as inadequate and said he lacked the skill to turn around the company.
Later that month, the insurer agreed to give Icahn’s firm a board seat along with billionaire John Paulson. On Aug. 2, AIG posted its first profitable period in four quarters and announced a $3 billion share buyback plan.
“As they get more cash, their stock is so cheap related to what they could buy it for, and they do have that money around,” Icahn said of share repurchases. AIG stock has declined about 4 percent this year and trades for less than book value, a measure of assets minus liabilities.
Hancock in January announced a plan to return $25 billion to shareholders over two years, with as much as $7 billion generated from divestitures. AIG rejected Icahn’s initial idea in October to split AIG into separate companies concentrating on property-casualty, life and mortgage operations. The billionaire later changed his tone to stress narrowing AIG’s focus, rather than a breakup.
AIG has “a good P&C company,” Icahn said Tuesday. “The life company itself, yeah, I think part of that life company should be sold, certainly part of it in Japan.”
Hancock said this month that he’s shunning “aggressive exits” from the life insurance business while still seeking to free up capital by selling older portfolios of policies. AIG this year has exited a broker-dealer operation and a stake in Chinese insurer PICC Property & Casualty Co.
Hancock said last week that escaping the government’s designation as a systemically important financial institution isn’t among its top priorities, and that trying to do so could be distracting to management. Icahn previously said fighting the SIFI-label should be a key objective.
On Tuesday, the activist declined to answer whether that was still a focus, noting that his firm now has representation on the board. Icahn did say that in the past he’s had adversarial relationships that improved, at least to a point, at other companies.
“I’m not tell you we have Christmas dinner together,” Icahn said. Still, “I go into these companies, I see unique things they should be doing, I think in certain cases we fought with the CEO for a while and then we become friendly.”