‘Icahn’ Is the Name No One Dares Speak on Cigna's Earnings Call

(Bloomberg) -- He builds his position in secret...

The rumor of his presence strikes fear in the hearts of CEOs...

Even to utter his name aloud would go too far...

Icahn!

Billionaire activist Carl Icahn’s name was on everyone’s minds and no one’s lips Thursday morning when Cigna Corp. held its second-quarter earnings call with Wall Street analysts.

Icahn is said to have taken a stake in the health insurer and to oppose its $54 billion takeover of Express Scripts Holding Co. His interest sent Express Scripts shares plunging and Cigna’s stock up on Wednesday as investors bet against the deal’s completion. Icahn hasn’t yet gone public with his stake, which was described by people familiar with the matter.

But despite the lurking presence of a legendary activist who might try and rally opposition to a deal that Cigna has said will transform the company and increase earnings, nobody brought it up -- Icahn’s name was never mentioned on the call.

Not that analysts who follow the company weren’t curious.

“On 8:30am call, look for CEO comments on news Carl Icahn has taken a stake,” wrote BMO Capital Markets’ Matthew Borsch ahead of the call.

“The focus for the stock will be speculation around outcome of shareholder vote on ESRX merger later this month given potential opposition of activist Carl Icahn,” Evercore ISI analyst Michael Newshel wrote to clients before the call.

Neither asked about Icahn.

“The name was not mentioned because there’s nothing official out,” Newshel said. “Those questions around the PBM and the shareholder vote, that was the underlying focus, rather than the quarterly results.”

One analyst did tiptoe close.

“I’m sure you’re confident about shareholders approving the Express transaction, as are we, but I just wanted to clarify, if the shareholders did not approve the transaction that there is no termination fee that Cigna pays,” said JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Gary Taylor.

Taylor didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment made through the bank.

The analysts aren’t alone. Cigna has so far not commented directly on Icahn’s reported position, and Chief Executive Officer David Cordani didn’t address it directly Thursday, either.

“We are confident in terms of our ability to get a successful vote on Aug. 24,” Cordani said.

The insurer declined to comment further.

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