BUSINESS
08/30/2011 06:48 EDT | Updated 10/30/2011 05:12 EDT

Icahn dumps stake in Lions Gate for $7 per share, ending a nearly 2-year battle for control

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Activist investor Carl Icahn said Tuesday that he is shedding his entire stake in Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., ending a more than two-year battle for control and sending shares of the niche movie studio tumbling in after-hours trading.

The sale, announced after the market closed, included an agreement for both sides to drop all pending lawsuits against each other.

Lionsgate and its next largest investor, Mark Rachesky, each agreed to buy back a quarter of Icahn's shares for $7 each, which is about what Icahn spent acquiring his one-third stake in the company.

Lionsgate said that it has the right to designate one or more parties to purchase Icahn's remaining stake, also at $7 a share, over the next 35 days.

The studio's shares fell 5 per cent, or 37 cents, to $7.15 in aftermarket trading.

Icahn wished the company well in a statement.

"As some have noted, my own 'slate' is pretty full at the time, and I therefore determined that it is a good time to exit," he said.

Icahn is also the largest shareholder in Clorox and is seeking election to the board of that company. He said Tuesday that he would vote to sell Clorox if appointed — or he would buy it himself.

Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer said Icahn's departure was in the best interests of Lions Gate shareholders and noted that because the company is buying back some of Icahn's shares, the number of shares outstanding will be reduced and share value should increase.

The company's portion of the buyback amounts to a little more than 11 million shares, or eight per cent of the total.

"We believe that this accretive and antidilutive transaction is in the best interests of all Lions Gate shareholders, and it allows the company to continue to focus on the execution of its long-term business plan," Feltheimer said in a statement.

Analyst Marla Backer with Hudson Square Research, who has a "buy" rating on the shares and a $9 price target, said it was good that the two sides have agreed to part ways.

"What Lionsgate went through with Icahn months ago was very debilitating and cost shareholders significantly," she said. Legal bills were in the millions of dollars and distracted the company from regular operations, she said.

But she added that the tumultuous period during which Icahn second-guessed every Lionsgate decision — including opposing and then supporting an ultimately failed bid to buy legendary studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. — may have helped the company figure out its priorities.

"It forced management to take a real look at reassessing what its core businesses are," she said.

In June, Lionsgate agreed to sell its Canadian distribution arm, Maple Pictures, for $38.5 million. After its quarterly earnings release earlier this month, CEO Feltheimer reiterated the company's aim to simplify its business and sell off non-core assets.

Lionsgate, a Canadian-American company based in Vancouver and Santa Monica, Calif., produces such hit television shows as "Mad Men," ''Weeds" and "Nurse Jackie." Its latest movie release, "Conan the Barbarian," bombed at the box office, but analysts have high hopes for the 2012 release of "The Hunger Games," the first in a movie series based on the young adult books by Suzanne Collins.