UPDATE 4-Microsoft to buy AI firm Nuance for $16 bln to boost healthcare business

Market trading boards are seen at the Australian Securities Exchange in Sydney, Friday, February 9, 2018. ( AAP Image/Ben Rushton) NO ARCHIVING

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April 12 (Reuters) – Microsoft Corp said on Monday it would buy artificial intelligence and speech technology firm Nuance Communications Inc for about $16 billion, as it builds out its cloud strategy for healthcare and enterprise customers.

The deal comes after the companies partnered in 2019 to automate clinical administrative work such as documentation and as Microsoft tries to extend its leadership in vertical cloud solutions in major industries including healthcare.

“This acquisition brings our technology directly into the physician and patient loop, which is central to all healthcare delivery. The acquisition will also expand our leadership in cross-industry enterprise AI and biometric security,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said on an investor call.

Microsoft’s offer of $56 per share represents a premium of 22.86% to Nuance’s most recent closing price. Nuance shares were up 16.8% at $53.24 around midday.

Nuance, known for pioneering speech technology and helping launch Apple Inc’s assistant Siri, has been doubling down on healthcare and enterprise AI. The company has spun off and sold a number of less profitable business units.

“Nuance has been in the midst of an unprecedented strategic turnaround the last few years under the leadership of CEO Mark Benjamin and we believe the company represents a unique asset on the healthcare front for” Microsoft, Dan Ives, analyst at Wedbush wrote in a note on Monday. “We also believe Microsoft can further integrate Nuance’s advanced speech technology throughout its consumer and enterprise ecosystem over the coming years to leverage this M&A move.”

With operations in 28 countries, the Burlington, Massachusetts-based company reported $1.5 billion in revenue in fiscal-year 2020.

The company said it serves 77% of U.S. hospitals, providing intelligent solutions including clinical speech recognition, medical transcription and medical imaging.

Benjamin will remain CEO of Nuance and will report to Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of Cloud & AI at Microsoft, the company said. (refini.tv/3a5Ux5z)

The deal follows Microsoft’s recent $7.5 billion acquisition of gaming company ZeniMax Media, and reports that Microsoft was in talks to buy messaging platform Discord, which also allows live audio events.

A deal for Nuance would be Microsoft’s second-biggest, after its $26.2 billion acquisition of LinkedIn in 2016. Including net debt, the all-cash transaction is valued at $19.7 billion.

Goldman Sachs is the financial adviser to Microsoft, while Evercore advised Nuance.

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