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Microsoft buys speech recognition firm Nuance in a $16 billion deal

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Key Points
  • Microsoft announced it will buy Nuance Communications in a $16 billion deal, or about $19 billion including debt.
  • Microsoft will buy Nuance for $56 per share, about a 23% premium over Nuance's closing price Friday.
  • Nuance's technology will be used in Microsoft's health-care cloud products.
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Microsoft, Nuance CEOs on $16B deal, cloud strategy, health-care AI solutions and more

Microsoft announced Monday that it will buy speech recognition company Nuance Communications for $56 per share, about 23% above its closing price Friday. The deal is worth about $16 billion and about $19 billion including debt.

It's the latest sign Microsoft is hunting for more growth through acquisitions. The company is also reportedly in talks to buy the chat app Discord for about $10 billion. On top of that, Microsoft made an effort to buy TikTok's U.S. business last year for about $30 billion before the deal was derailed.

The Nuance acquisition represents Microsoft's largest acquisition since it bought LinkedIn for more than $26 billion in 2016. Last month, Microsoft completed its $7.6 billion acquisition of gaming company Zenimax.

Shares of Nuance ended the trading day up 15.95% Monday. Microsoft shares were up slightly.

Nuance would be aligned with the part of Microsoft's business that serves businesses and governments. Nuance derives revenue by selling tools for recognizing and transcribing speech in doctor office visits, customer-service calls and voicemails. In its announcement, Microsoft said Nuance's technology will be used to augment Microsoft's cloud products for health care, which were launched last year.

In an interview on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" Monday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella highlighted Nuance's health care tools as the key driver behind the acquisition.

"We've seen a massive accelearation of digital transformation… health care in particular," Nadella said. "When you think about the provider market… digital tech is going to be the key."

Nuance reported $7 million in net income on about $346 million in revenue in the fourth quarter of 2020, with revenue declining 4% on an annualized basis. Nuance was founded in 1992, and had 7,100 employees as of September.

Microsoft said Nuance CEO Mark Benjamin will remain at the company and report to Scott Guthrie,who is in charge of Microsoft's cloud and artificial intelligence businesses.

Nuance has a strong reputation for its voice recognition technology, and it has been considered an acquisition target for companies like Apple, Microsoft and more for several years. Microsoft already has voice recognition built into many of its products, but it has recently shut down some products featuring its voice assistant Cortana.

--CNBC's Alex Sherman and Jordan Novet contributed to this report.