Wall Street legends Carl Icahn and Warren Buffett have taken different approaches to shares of Occidental Petroleum in recent weeks.
Icahn had been selling to exit his long equity position. Buffett’s conglomerate, Berkshire Hathaway, has been building a position worth billions.
In an interview Tuesday on CNBC’s “Closing Bell: Overtime,” Icahn said his decision to dump Occidental, as oil prices climbed to multiyear highs, illustrates the contrasting philosophies between him and Buffett.
“He’s a tough guy to disagree with. I mean, look at his record,” the founder and chair of Icahn Enterprises said, alluding to the fact many consider Buffett to be the greatest long-term investor of all time.
“I don’t know that we disagree completely. I think we’re to a certain extent in a different business with Warren. I’m an activist,” Icahn said. “I look for a company that’s, in my mind, way undervalued such as [Southwest Gas], and there’s something I can do about it. That’s what I enjoy doing. That’s why I come to work every day.”
While both men may look for undervalued securities, Buffett is known to have his patience and extended time horizon. “In fact, when we own portions of outstanding businesses with outstanding managements, our favorite holding period is forever,” Buffett wrote in his 1988 letter to Berkshire shareholders, as he discussed the company starting a position in Coca-Cola.
On the other hand, Icahn said the positions he builds are less about constructing a portfolio to maintain for the long term.
“We look for the moment to strike and, of course, I might’ve made a lot more money if I kept the Apples and the Netflixes that we bought, but we bought them and made a big profit,” Icahn said.
Icahn told CNBC in 2016 that he’d sold out of Apple entirely. That’s the same year in which Buffett’s Berkshire began buying shares of the iPhone maker. It has since become one of Buffett’s most successful investments ever on paper, rivaling the aforementioned ownership of Coca-Cola.
Icahn began buying shares of Occidental in 2019, around the time it was engaging in a bidding war for Anadarko Petroleum.
“We made close to $2 billion, actually, in the stock. And we, as an activist, I think we did one very good thing,” said Icahn, who added that he still has a “complicated hedge” on Occidental.
“I own the warrants and short some stock against it, and short calls against it,” Icahn said. “That’s my old days. I was an arbitrageur for a while, and I love to play with those derivatives, so that’s one of the plays I’m in.”
I also told CNBC on Tuesday he thinks a recession or “or even worse” may be on the way.