March 1, 2018 / 8:06 PM / 8 months ago

UPDATE 2-Icahn bets on Newell, praises Herbalife management

(Updates to add statement from Newell)

March 1 (Reuters) - Activist investor Carl Icahn said he owns a "large position" in Newell Brands Inc where a rival activist is already fighting to remove the entire board from the company that makes matches, markers and candles.

The billionaire investor, who has made a career out of shaking up management, told cable news network CNBC that the company's stock is undervalued and that he has spoken with Newell Chief Executive Officer Mike Polk.

"While we do not comment on individual conversations with shareholders, we do appreciate Mr. Icahn's ownership and views," a spokesman for Newell said in an email.

Icahn also praised the management team at Herbalife where he is the largest investor, adding he had no personal animosity toward rival investor William Ackman who spent six years betting against the nutrition company's future.

Icahn said he had been thinking about possibly putting up a slate of directors at Newell which makes Rubbermaid containers and Sharpie markers. But before the nomination deadline he realized someone else was thinking the same thing. "I'm going to be the third horse in a three horse race. I just decided why should I get into it?"

While he declined to quantify his position in Newell, he said he owns "one of the larger positions," and that he may be influential in deciding who wins the proxy contest.

Icahn has not returned a call to expand on the comments he made on CNBC.

Rival activist investment firm Starboard Value LP, which owns about 4 percent of Newell, last month announced plans to oust Newell's entire board, including the CEO.

Icahn said he has not sold a single share of the roughly 23 million Herbalife shares he owns. "I'm bullish on the company," he said, adding "But I don't go out and say what I'm going to do with my stocks."

On Wednesday, Ackman said he had ended his battle against Herbalife which cost him and his clients hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. He called the company a fraud, saying it was running an illegal pyramid scheme where distributors earn more for wooing new recruits than for selling the products.

Icahn said Ackman called him on Wednesday to tell him the news that he was out and congratulated him as the stock price surged. "It was a classy thing," Icahn said about Ackman after having once called him a "crybaby in the schoolyard." (Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss in Boston, Tamara Mathias and Aishwarya Venugopal in Bengaluru Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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