Elliott Management's recently announced $1.4 billion stake in eBay could create real value if eBay's leaders cooperate with the activist hedge fund, CNBC's Jim Cramer said Friday.
"The guys at Elliott have some great ideas that could potentially make shareholders a lot of money. At the same time, eBay's management team is a lot better than you might think if you were only looking at the stock's recent performance," he said on "Mad Money." "If eBay and Elliott can work together, then, like Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains in Casablanca, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
In the last year, eBay has gone from posting strong results to delivering imperfect quarters, which has led to a good deal of destruction in the stock. Shares of the online marketplace are down nearly 26 percent in the last 12 months.
"The problem? Slowing sales growth at the company's core marketplace business," Cramer said. "Specifically, eBay's gross merchandise volume — the total volume of stuff that gets sold on their platform — slowed from a high-single-digit growth rate near the end of 2017 to a flat growth rate by the end of last year."
Enter Elliott, a well-respected activist hedge fund run by billionaire Paul Singer. Last week, the firm disclosed a 4 percent stake in eBay and publicly released a letter to the board of directors with a plan to get eBay's $34.31 stock to $55 or even $63 by the end of next year. Shares of eBay vaulted 6 percent in a day following the announcement.
Elliott's plan is fivefold:
- Get eBay to consider spinning off its StubHub and Classifieds divisions. (These areas are seeing rapid growth, but may not be getting the valuation they deserve by being buried in eBay's sprawling business, Cramer explained.)
- Get management to focus its efforts on the core online marketplace.
- Cut costs through a variety of ways.
- Return more capital to shareholders.
- Find the right people to oversee the turnaround.
"The most encouraging sign for me? Elliott ended their letter not with demands, but with a simple request that management take their ideas seriously and work with them for the good of the business," Cramer said.
The "Mad Money" host saw the biggest point of potential conflict being the spin-offs of StubHub and Classifieds, which eBay CEO Devin Wenig highlighted on the company's most recent post-earnings conference call. But he did add that eBay is constantly reevaluating its holdings, so it's possible he's more open to the idea than it seems, Cramer said.
As for Cramer, he thought Elliott's plan for the two businesses was "dead right." He explained that Classifieds, a Craigslist-like service, is "already designed to operate independently," and argued that ticket exchange platform StubHub could be a lot more valuable as a standalone company or a subsidiary of a related player like Live Nation, which owns Ticketmaster.
"Remember, eBay spun off PayPal back in 2014 and that's been a huge win for shareholders — why not do it again?" he said.
Right now, the catch is that it's unclear whether Elliott will push for new management or a new board of directors. But considering Wenig's history at the company — during which he pushed for the spin-off of PayPal, improved the customer experience, pushed eBay to the top of its categories and repurchased a great deal of stock — Elliott could actually be "pleasantly surprised," Cramer said.
"If Wenig and Elliott can find a way to work together here, I'm very optimistic and believe the stock could have a lot more upside," he said. "Elliot Management has done a ton of research into eBay and I think they make some very good points, but I want to stress that the best person to implement their plans is the [company's current] CEO, Devin Wenig. If, like me, you believe that eBay and the activists can work together, then the stock is absolutely a buy here, even after its big move up since Elliott's announcement."
Disclosure: Cramer's charitable trust own shares of PayPal.
Questions for Cramer?
Call Cramer: 1-800-743-CNBC
Questions, comments, suggestions for the "Mad Money" website? firstname.lastname@example.org