Oshkosh Shareholders Snub Icahn Efforts to Shake Up Company

Oshkosh Corp. (OSK) shareholders rejected billionaire investor Carl Icahn’s efforts to shake up the maker of blast-resistant military vehicles.

The company, citing preliminary results, said at least 12 of its 13 nominees were elected by shareholders to the board of directors today. The outcome for the remaining seat was “too close to call,” it said in a statement after its annual meeting at the Experimental Aircraft Association Center, an aircraft museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Icahn didn’t attend the meeting, which lasted less than 30 minutes. He had sought to elect six candidates to the 13-member board. The 75-year-old investor has criticized Oskkosh’s performance and management, and has suggested that the company be merged with another truck maker, Navistar International Corp. (NAV) of Warrenville, Illinois.

Icahn announced a 9.5 percent stake in Oshkosh in June and a similar amount in Navistar in October.

“We will put the proxy contest aside and pursue our principle objective of creating value for shareholders,” Charles Szews, chief executive officer, said in a brief presentation to several hundred attendees.

Shares of Oshkosh rose 61 cents, or 2.5 percent, to $25.41 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading.

A phone call to Icahn’s office in New York to seek reaction to the preliminary results was not immediately returned.

‘Significant Win’

If the early results are accurate, they are a “significant win for Oshkosh and a repudiation of Carl Icahn,” Charles D. Brady, an analyst for BMO Capital Markets in Boston, wrote in a note to investors.

“We believe it very likely that Icahn will exit his position in Oshkosh,” said Brady, who rates the company as “outperform.”

Company officials didn’t identify the Oshkosh nominee whose seat was at risk. More preliminary results are expected within four business days and a final tally within a few weeks.

Six of Icahn’s representatives attended the meeting, including board candidate Samuel Merksamer, a managing director at Icahn Capital in New York.

“We hope the company has a renewed focus on creating shareholder value and that they take to heart some of the points we bought up during this proxy fight,” Merksamer said in an interview before Oshkosh issued its statement.

In Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Icahn said the company should consider selling its JLG business, which makes construction lift equipment.

No Fireworks

Joe Paradowski, an Oshkosh shareholder from Milwaukee, said in an interview that Icahn’s approach wasn’t in the company’s best interests.

“If he could get some members on the board, he would shake the company down, try to merge it with Navistar, sell off parts of this at absolutely the wrong time in the economy to be sold,” Paradowski said.

The meeting drew little reaction to the underlying fight for board seats. “We came to see the fireworks, and there were none,” John Pozorski, a shareholder from Milwaukee, said in an interview.

Demand for Oshkosh’s blast-resistant trucks for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars made the company one of the Pentagon (USBODEFN)’s top 10 defense contractors. Revenue surged almost seven-fold to $9.84 billion in fiscal 2010 from $1.45 billion in fiscal 2001.

The company’s dependence on defense is now posing risks. War spending has declined, and the Pentagon plans to cut at least $487 billion, or 8 percent, from its base budget during the next decade.

The company’s revenue decreased 23 percent to $7.58 billion in fiscal 2011, which ended Sept. 30. On Nov. 1, Oshkosh lowered its outlook for defense sales by 15 percent for the current fiscal year.

Defense accounts for 56 percent of the company’s total revenue.

Oshkosh stock hit an all-time high of $65.76 in July 2007. Its shares fell 39 percent in 2011, hitting a low of $14.07 in October before recovering.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brendan McGarry in Washington at bmcgarry2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephanie Stoughton at sstoughton@bloomberg.net

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