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Kerkorian stands by Ford offer

Ford headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Billionaire Kirk Kerkorian has investing problems most of the rest of us don't. Earlier this month, he offered to buy 20 million shares of Ford -- risky business given the way things are going in that business.

But he didn't get to be so rich by being foolish, right? He said he'd pull the offer if Ford shares fell 10 percent or more. As of today, Ford's down around 18 percent, but Kerkorian says he's still in.

So we asked Marketplace's Alisa Roth to try to figure out what he's really thinking.


Alisa Roth: As an investor, Kirk Kerkorian is known for saying what he thinks, but today he wouldn't comment on the offer, so I asked David Healey, an auto industry analyst, what's going through Mr. Kerkorian's head.

David Healey: Kerkorian is thinking about making money. It's as simple as that.

Healey says Kerkorian believes Ford's stock is undervalued. Kerkorian's investment company Tracinda already owns a lot of shares in Ford. If the tender offer goes through, he'll end up owning about 5.5 percent.

Kerkorian think's that stake will be worth a lot more if the company manages to get its act together.

Healey: Probably Kerkorian is right that a patient investor will make money at Ford when the economy turns around.

But right now, the situation looks pretty bleak. Last week, Ford told investors that it might not be able to reach its goal of profitability in 2009. Meanwhile, gas prices keep going up and American consumers have responded by buying fewer trucks and SUVs, the bread and butter of Ford's business.

Another Detroit watcher, Erich Merkle, says Kerkorian may be on to something though:

Erich Merkle: What we have in the market right now is a bit of commodities bubble, if you will.

He thinks gas prices have to come down -- or at least plateau -- soon, and Ford's getting ready to give the market what it wants.

Merkle: You've got to take a look at not their product as it exists today, but what their product is going to look like 12 months from now.

Ford's as tight-lipped as Kerkorian; it's not saying what it thinks of Tracinda's offer.

As for Kerkorian, he's promising to keep his mouth shut and let the company keep on trucking.

In New York, I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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