|It’s hard to explain how ideas happen, but the truth is that it’s usually not a long and labored process but rather the exact opposite: an instinct, a spark, something that skips a synapse when you’re jogging or waiting for your Diet Coke to arrive at a restaurant. And more often than not, at least for me, it arises from a curiosity—or perhaps a better way to put it is that it comes from the nagging sense that you don’t quite know the whole story.
I had that sensation last week when my iPhone illuminated with various pop-up alerts that Dan Loeb, the feared activist hedge fund manager, had again amassed a significant stake in Disney, worth some $750 million. This isn’t the first time that Loeb has taken an interest in the company. Very early in the pandemic, Loeb made the calculated bet that Disney’s stock, which had been depressed amid Covid’s initial impact on its parks and cruises and theatrical revenue streams, would eventually rebound. At its peak, his firm, Third Point, amassed a $900 million or so position in Disney before selling out earlier this year. Meanwhile, shares of Disney rose about 70 percent between around the time of his initial purchase and when he disclosed it. It’s safe to say, he made a king’s ransom.
This time around, however, Loeb’s investment came along with a cogent open letter to Disney C.E.O. Bob Chapek that enumerated a number of proposed changes, from considering a spin-off of ESPN (which my partner, Dylan Byers,first reported on last fall) to buying out Comcast’s position in Hulu to shaking up the composition of the board. Not insignificant stuff!
Investor mating rituals are always well choreographed affairs, and actually rarely contain surprises. It’s hard to imagine Chapek first learned of these fulsome suggestions while flipping onto Squawk Box one morning. What was really going on here, I wondered. And what might be the endgame for both men? How much might Loeb truly demand in return for his leverage? How much change would Chapek have to execute upon? And in the end, I couldn’t help but wonder, what was the number? After all, Loeb’s pressure cooker was presumably only the initial step in an accretive stock value journey for Disney.
The best part of my job, of course, is that I don’t need to sit on my hands and wonder for long. I immediately texted my friend and partner Bill Cohan, the defining Wall Street reporter of our time, who has been following Loeb for years, famously profiling him back in the day at Graydon-era Vanity Fair. Bill, as his readers well know, is a text away from everyone at Wall Street. A former senior figure in the industry once relayed the sensation of fear and curiosity that one experiences when they’re on the receiving end of his inquiries. Hell, Warren Buffett has even responded directly to his Dry Powder private email with follow up notes.
This is all a long way of saying that Bill quickly got on the case and figured out the real inside story. In his brilliant piece, Dan Loeb’s Chapek Punch List, you’ll also see that Bill got the number. Loeb, indeed, appears sincere about his suggestion list, but Bill notes that he won’t major in the minor, as one legendary investor likes to say. As Bill writes: “At the end of the day, I’m told, he wants Disney’s stock price to double, to $240 a share. If he gets what he wants or most of what he wants, relatively quickly, I suspect Loeb will be gone and then move on to the next thing before Bob Chapek can say Turning Red 2. You know, time value of money and all. But if not, well, Loeb could make Ron DeSantis look like a warm up act.”
But if you read only one piece this week, I behoove you to check out an intriguing media tale of a far smaller valuation. Years ago, when we worked together at The Hive, Tina Nguyen sold me on a piece about a couple of aspiring right-wing media entrepreneurs, Ben Shapiro and Jeremy Boreing, who were engaging in a MAGA-inflected media project of almost absurd ambition. Sure, I told her, that’ll never work.
Well, all these years later, The Daily Wire has turned into a digital media revenue spigot, throwing off some $180 million per year. Its streaming platform, The Daily Wire+ (what else?) is growing at an accelerated clip, too. The company has even branched into childrens’ entertainment and consumer packaged goods. No matter one’s politics (and trust me, these aren’t mine), Boreing and Shapiro’s 21st century MAGA-adjacent direct-to-consumer content machine is a bizarre and fascinating story, indicative of our age and times. Take a look at Tina’s terrific feature, The Chip & Joanna of MAGA America. It is precisely the sort of piece that you can only find at Puck.
Have a great weekend,
P.S. – Bill’s story on Dan Loeb was featured in his private email, Dry Powder, earlier this week. Stay ahead of the curve by signing up for his newsletter here.