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Icahn Beats Up BEA

Since the 1970s, financier and multi-billionaire Carl Icahn has feasted on struggling companies. While he has previously focused on mature companies like Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) , he is now expanding his horizons. He has now built an 8.5% stake in enterprise software developer BEA Systems (Nasdaq: BEAS  ) .

BEA got its start in 1995 (the name is an acronym for the names of its co-founders: Bill Coleman, Ed Scott, and Alfred Chuang). Within a few years, BEA became a leader in a hot market: middleware software. This technology helps companies deliver sophisticated applications for use in applications like e-commerce.

The problem is that BEA has had troubles finding a second act. True, the company has invested in new technologies like Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) software, but the results have been mixed.

For example, in the latest fiscal second quarter, BEA posted a 9.4% drop in license revenue to $123.1 million. This came after a 13% decline in Q1.

So why is Icahn interested? Keep in mind that BEA is a cash cow. BEA had Q2 operating cash of $61.4 million and $1.1 billion in the bank.  

What is more, BEA has a customer base of heavyweights like Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) , JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) , AT&T (NYSE: T  ) , and so on. These customers are a lucrative source of ongoing maintenance revenue, fees and product add-ons.

So according to Icahn's 13D filing, he wants BEA to sell out to a strategic buyer. He writes, "Consolidation in the technology industry is leading to increased competition that may place independent software vendors at a competitive disadvantage."

I agree. But in light of BEA's $5.1 billion market cap, there are not many suitors. The few that are interested include rivals like Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) and IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) .

Icahn is not afraid of challenges, and the investment in BEA is no exception. But corporate activism is typically a slow process and far from foolproof. In other words, BEA may continue to meander for some time.

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