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Chanos Vs Icahn: Famous Short-Seller Goes After Icahn's LNG Exporting Activist Play

Almost exactly one month ago, on August 6, Carl Icahn filed a 13-D revealing that he had built up a 19.4 million, or 8.2%, stake in US natural gas exporter Cheniere Energy (LNG), a position he had started buying on June 10 when the stock was trading in the $70. In the 13-D Icahn stuck to the script, demanding a board seat, capex cuts, discussions on executive compensation and, of course, financings, to wit:

The Reporting Persons acquired their positions in the Shares in the belief that the Shares were undervalued. The Reporting Persons intend to have discussions with representatives of the Issuer's management and board of directors relating to the Issuer's operations, capital expenditures, financings and executive compensation. The Reporting Persons may also seek shareholder board representation if appropriate.  As of August 5, 2015, the Reporting Persons have not had any discussions with representatives of the Issuer's management or board of directors.

What he really wanted was to use Cheniere as the latest buyback vehicle, which would be levered up with a few billion in debt and the proceeds would be used to cash "activists" such as Icahn out.

Since then Icahn has not exactly hit a home run, with the stock tumbling 20% from Icahn's initial price, and closing at $56.75 yesterday: hardly good news for the outspoken billionaire. Today Icahn got some more bad news when famous short-seller Jim Chanos announced on CNBC that his latest heretofore undisclosed short is precisely Cheniere, which he described as a "looming disaster" alleging that demand for liquid natural gas isn’t growing. Which, of course, is hardly a profound charge in this time of massive excess production of virtually every commodity now that China is exporing its deflation via currency devaluation.

From Bloomberg:

Cheniere, whose stock has slumped 19 percent this year, counts hedge funds including Baupost Group and Viking Global Investors among its top shareholders. Icahn last month took control of two board seats at the Houston-based company, after reporting an 8.18 percent stake in Cheniere on Aug. 6.

 

Cheniere is set to become the first exporter of gas from U.S. shale formations, with export terminals along the Gulf Coast planning to begin operations this year.

 

The company’s chief executive officer, Charif Souki, was the highest-paid CEO in corporate America in 2013. After a shareholder revolt and lawsuit, the board reduced his salary to $1 last year.

Which means that for everyone who misses the billionaire pissing contests of old between Icahn and Ackman won't have long to wait before the next iteration in the "Who's wants to be a (bigger) billionaire" reality TV season. And while neither Icahn nor Chanos will be hurt of their thesis is wrong, the biggest loser here will be Cheniere employees, who will see layoffs in either case - either Icahn's debt buyback plan is executed resulting in mass layoffs to cover the cost of debt, or Chanos is correct and the company crashes as fast as it soared in the past few years on hope of a massive LNG exporting terminal.

CNBC clip below: