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Icahn's January Plays Could Ruin His 2012 Plans

If Icahn were to succeed in his tender, he would sell Commercial Metals' non-core international assets and combine the remaining U.S. business with his existing majority-owned PSC Metals business, expanding its $725 million in 2010 sales by a factor of nearly tenfold with Commercial Metals' revenue.

That's where things get complicated. Like with a $10.3 billion play for Clorox (CLX) in 2011, Icahn may simply be trying to drum up interest from a strategic buyer with his bid. If that were the case, his tender may not be looked upon so highly. Icahn was unable to win Clorox shareholder support for a slate of his directors to the company's board, which would have moved his bid forward. In September, Icahn withdrew his Clorox buyout offer and began selling shares.

Icahn will also face shareholders at the end of January in his nomination of six directors to truck-maker Oshkosh's board - which he took a near 10% share stake in June - and subsequently recommended in a December CNBC interview that the Wisconsin-based company sell itself to larger truck and military vehicles maker Navistar. That deal proposal already is complicated by a reverse in Icahn's course.

When taking a stake in Navistar starting in October, which has now grown to nearly 10%, Icahn quickly pushed for a directors to the company's board, potentially paving the way for a sale. He withdrew his nominations when Navistar agreed to declassify its board, which would allow for an unsolicited bid - not a big help to a potential merger with smaller Oshkosh.

Oshkosh has consistently resisted Icahn's directors, and hasn't expressed interest in selling itself. Meanwhile, Navistar CEO Daniel Ustain was more amenable to synergies with Oshkosh, such as its military vehicles business and pieces of its commercial businesses like its construction of cement mixers. "[Some] collaboration we think might be beneficial for everybody," said Ustain on a December analyst call to questions about a potential merger raised by Mario Gabelli of GAMCO Investors. To the reply, Gabelli said, "[Obviously] we're quite interested in your staying focused on what you're doing because you're doing a great job at" - a signal that not everyone's so negative on management guiding the company through a cyclical slowdown.

As with another previous Lions Gate Films (LGF) takeover attempt, Icahn may not prove to win Commercial Metals and Oshkosh shareholders over - especially as his strategies aren't so clear. If the proxy's fail in January, it raises the question of whether Icahn be better off pursuing a less ambitious strategy, which fueled his 2011 gains.

Recent billion dollar plus-sized minority stakes by Icahn in El Paso (EP) and Motorola Mobility (MMI) netted the investment mogul impressive returns when Kinder Morgan (KMI) and Google (GOOG) paid big premiums for the respective companies. In those investments, Icahn pushed for specific asset spins and patent sales, respectively, which eventually yielded full sales at significant premiums. Those deals were key to his 2011 profits.

To be seen is whether a more ambitious activist slate for 2012 will yield the same results.

-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York
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