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AOL's shares may be up significantly in the past several months, but the company's future is far from certain.
Under CEO Tim Armstrong's reign, the company has invested heavily in content. Last year, it purchased The Huffington Post for $315m and the year prior, it paid eight figures for popular tech blog TechCrunch. The company's tab for its homegrown Patch reportedly stands at more than $150m, with profitability nowhere in sight.
Financially, AOL has delivered in recent quarters, thanks in some part to its $1bn patent sale, although under the surface there are some red flags -- red flags that some activist shareholders have seized upon in trying to force change at AOL.
The most prominent activist shareholder, the Starboard Value fund, owns more than 5% of AOL and has been arguing that Armstrong is wasting money on initiatives like Patch. So it started a proxy fight in an effort to win three AOL board seats. AOL and Armstrong's response to the effort: we're doing what's right for the long term and cutting back on bold (and often expensive) initiatives would be sacrificing the company's future for short-term investor gains.
So who is right? AOL shareholders are apparently willing to give Armstrong and company the benefit of the doubt with Starboard Value's proxy fight failing today as AOL investors re-elected the company's board at the company's annual meeting.
In a statement, AOL thanked investors for staying the course. "Today’s outcome reaffirms our strong belief that AOL has the right strategy and team to successfully execute on our plan to continue to deliver enhanced value for all stockholders," the statement read.
Clearly, not every AOL investor was happy about the outcome, as AOL shares have been down as much as 7% today, a reminder that there are widely differing views on how the company can best survive and thrive going forward.