Whole Foods is United Natural Foods' largest customer.
Photograph by Andrew Councill — Bloomberg/Getty Images
By Tom Huddleston Jr.
August 5, 2014

The mere rumor of interest from billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn is enough to spur activity in a company’s shares, and that’s exactly what happened to Whole Foods (WFM) Tuesday morning.

Shares in the upscale grocery chain, which have dropped more than 33.1% on the year, jumped as much as nearly 6% this morning on rumors that Icahn might have taken a significant stake in the company. The rumor was apparently first reported by the website theflyonthewall.com before Yahoo Finance later offered a conflicting report, based on anonymous sourcing, suggesting that Icahn has no plans to take a position in Whole Foods.

The company’s stock retreated, but was still up nearly 2.5% Tuesday afternoon.

Whole Foods shares dropped nearly 20% in May on disappointing quarterly earnings, including same-store sales that came in well below analysts’ estimates, and investors were further disheartened by yet another lackluster quarter being reported last week. Still, the company has maintained confidence in its ability to fend off rivals in the organic foods market, who include competitors such as Trader Joe’s and even Wal-Mart. Whole Foods continues to expand to new markets and has plans to add more than 100 additional stores in the U.S., which would put it at 500 locations in total, by 2017.

As for Icahn, it’s no surprise that rumors regarding his interest in Whole Foods would give the company’s shares a jolt. The activist investor may be a thorn in the side to countless executive boards, but other investors are more likely to get excited looking at what recently happened at Family Dollar. Icahn took a 9.4% stake in the bargain retailer in June, sending Family Dollar’s shares soaring, and demanded that the CEO sell the company, which he agreed to do last week in an $8.5 billion sale to rival Dollar Tree. That deal valued Family Dollar at a 24% premium to its July 25 closing price.


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