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Activist Shorts Austerity, Goes Long M&A

Recently, Ubben and ValueAct upped ownership of their largest holding, Motorola Solutions, by buying shares directly from Carl Icahn, who followed the fund manager at Monday's summit with a starkly different message.

Occasionally, the conventional activist speaks up through Ubben: ValueAct's influence on the splits of Sara Lee and cost cuts at Valeant signal that the fund is willing to play the role of a traditional activist. "Could I see myself doing a proxy in a bigger company for one board seat? I could," said Ubben.

Nevertheless, for investors who may be tiring of corporate austerity, spinoff plans and the heavy stick wielded by some activists like Icahn and Daniel Loeb of Third Point, among others, Ubben's conviction that now is a good time for patient investment may be a compelling alternative.

Watch for an earnings turnaround at Adobe, Halliburton, and CBRE, and a cycle of M&A and spending at Valeant Pharmaceuticals and Motorola Solutions, to be early reads on whether 2012 is an opportune time for companies to invest, in the same vein that 2009 was a buying opportunity for investors like Ubben.

For more on the summit, see how bets on AOL and Barnes & Noble show a kinder and gentler activist is emerging. See Carl Icahn's first 2012 M&A win , for more on more aggressive activist investing. See why timing is key in biotech takeovers for more on M&A ideas.

-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York.

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