It's the second big tech deal Icahn has made in recent days. He has also tried to engineer a takeover of Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) and suddenly appears, rocking a white beard and no tie, on the cover of Forbes.
Icahn is buoyed by his recent success with Herbalife (NYSE:HLF), which has held firm since he came in on the buy side opposite Bill Ackman, and Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK), which is up 10% since he moved founder Aubrey McClendon to an April 1 retirement. Icahn has also become the largest investor in Transocean (NYSE:RIG), which is up 13% so far this year.
His recent Forbes profile is a typical "big fish" piece, and attempts to spin the idea of "lone wolf" investors like Icahn taking the place of hedge fund managers like Ackman, but beyond that the question occurs, are you right to follow in this fish's wake?
Icahn is arguing that there is undiscovered value in Nuance, which dominates the market for voice recognition but has failed to capitalize on it. The company's new VoiceAds service has attracted a lot of media interest since its announcement, based on its promise to not only speak the ad's text but interact with mobile users.
But Nuance has done a lot of other neat stuff without getting much reward. Its technology is behind Apple's Siri. Its Dragon line of dictation programs are the market leader.
The problem here is that Nuance became the leader in voice almost by default. Mighty Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has been unable to capitalize on voice even though it gives the basic technology away. The technology actually originated with IBM, which offered VoiceType as early as 1997, spun out something called ViaVoice in 1999, then sold that product to ScanSoft, which Nuance later acquired.
Icahn is 77. He has always focused on near-term profits, turning over his portfolio regularly when he got what he wanted. What he seems to want from Nuance is a plan to increase profits from its voice technologies.
It's an open question whether such a plan exists. I would only be interested in this idea if I were ready to follow each move Icahn makes with Nuance, and each move Nuance makes, being prepared to always pull the trigger when something pops. It's a trade, not an investment. That said, if you like trading it's something worth doing.