Fairholme's Berkowitz resigns from St. Joe board

By @ibtimes on

Mutual fund manager Bruce Berkowitz resigned from the board of St. Joe Co on Monday, just weeks after joining it, citing disagreements with other board members at the company where he is the largest shareholder.

His exit is the latest twist for St. Joe, the largest private landholder in northern Florida. While Berkowitz has raised his stake in the company and repeatedly said he would like to buy all of it if he could, prominent hedge fund manager David Einhorn has attacked its aggressive real estate bets and says the shares are wildly overvalued.

St. Joe shares fell 4.3 percent in premarket trading on light volume.

Berkowitz and Charles Fernandez, both executives at Fairholme Capital Management LLC, also withdrew their names to be considered for election at the company's annual shareholder meeting, according to a regulatory filing.

We will not stand for re-election except as part of a Board where a majority of the directors are committed to shareholder value, pay for performance, and effective corporate governance, Berkowitz and Fernandez said in the filing.

After working with the current Board over these past weeks, we have concluded that the current Board is not in a position to propose such a slate of directors, they wrote.

A St. Joe representative was not immediately available for comment.

Following a board meeting last week, the Florida-based land developer said it would engage Morgan Stanley to help it explore options including a revised business plan, joint ventures, asset sales, a merger or sale of the company.

Fairholme owns about 30 percent of St. Joe.

As of Friday, when shares closed at $26.70, the stock was up 57 percent since falling to about $17 in late November. Shares had traded above $80 at the height of the real estate bubble in 2005.

The company has been in the center of competing investor views by Berkowitz and Einhorn, who are both prominent money managers. Einhorn, of hedge fund Greenlight Capital, is shorting the stock, betting its shares will fall. He first rose to prominence for criticizing Lehman Brothers' accounting methods before the investment bank collapsed.

St. Joe owns more than a half million acres of land in the Florida panhandle.

(Reporting by Nadia Damouni and Martha Graybow, editing by Dave Zimmerman)

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