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Carl Icahn Shakes Up This Utility's Board and Ousts CEO

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Southwest Gas Holdings (SWX - Free Report) shares rose over 4% in morning trading as investors digested news of a settlement agreement with billionaire Carl Icahn that will replace CEO John Hester and transfer up to four board seats to the activist investor.

Southwest Gas, an energy holding company based in Las Vegas, distributes and transports natural gas in Arizona, Nevada, and California. The utility company also provides installation, maintenance and replacement of underground pipes for energy distribution.

The deal brought to a close a lengthy battle spanning several months as SWX progressed with its plan to purchase Questar Pipelines for approximately $2 billion. Icahn vehemently disagreed with the purchase, saying that it would ultimately hurt shareholders. He argued that Southwest Gas was overpaying for Questar, attacking the utility’s executive panel for “poor governance” and “egregious errors”. Icahn owns approximately 4% of SWX common shares.

The ousting of Hester was followed by the immediate promotion of Karen Haller to president and CEO. Icahn was adamant about the fact that Hester was “a great liability” to Southwest Gas and that no deal would have been made without Hester’s replacement.

Icahn is permitted to appoint at least three directors (and possibly a fourth) following the annual meeting next week. A common move for Icahn, the American financier has built his illustrious career by going to war with companies he believes could be run better. He often asks for board seats in his settlement arrangements before stepping aside as the new appointees become more involved. 

SWX, a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy) stock, has exceeded earnings estimates in seven of the past nine quarters. It most recently reported Q4 EPS back in March of $1.61, a 3.21% beat over the $1.56 consensus estimate. The stock has been on a tear as it has advanced over 30% year-to-date and is currently hitting an all-time high in price.

Southwest Gas Corporation Price, Consensus and EPS Surprise

Southwest Gas Corporation Price, Consensus and EPS Surprise

Southwest Gas is slated to report Q1 earnings today after the bell. Analysts are expecting first-quarter EPS of $2.02, a slight -0.49% decline versus the same quarter last year. Stay tuned.

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