Pfizer walks away from $118 billion AstraZeneca takeover fight

LONDON/NEW YORK Mon May 26, 2014 11:55am EDT

The Pfizer logo is seen at their world headquarters in New York April 28, 2014. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

The Pfizer logo is seen at their world headquarters in New York April 28, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Kelly

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LONDON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Pfizer abandoned its attempt to buy AstraZeneca for nearly 70 billion pounds ($118 billion) on Monday as a deadline approached without a last-minute change of heart by the British drugmaker.

The decision ends a month-long public fight between two of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies that sparked political concerns on both sides of Atlantic over jobs and corporate tax maneuvers.

British rules now require an enforced cooling-off period. AstraZeneca could reach out to Pfizer after three months and Pfizer could take another run at its smaller British rival in six months time, whether it is invited back or not.

Pfizer's move came two hours before a 5.00 pm (1200 ET) deadline to make a firm offer or walk away, under UK takeover rules. Its decision to quit the stage, at least for now, had been widely expected after AstraZeneca refused its final offer of 55 pounds a share.

"Following the AstraZeneca board's rejection of the proposal, Pfizer announces that it does not intend to make an offer for AstraZeneca," Pfizer said in a short news release.

The biggest U.S. drugmaker promised it would not go hostile by taking its offer directly to AstraZeneca shareholders, leaving the fate of what would have been the world's largest ever drugs merger in the hands of its target, whose board would have had to make a complete U-turn to get a deal done.

"We continue to believe that our final proposal was compelling and represented full value for AstraZeneca based on the information that was available to us," said Ian Read, Pfizer's chairman and chief executive.

Pfizer's final offer was at a price that many analysts and investors had previously suggested would bring AstraZeneca to the table for serious negotiations.

But in rejecting an earlier offer of 53.50 pounds as undervaluing the company, the British group indicated it needed a bid more than 10 percent higher, or at least 58.85 pounds per share, for its board to consider a recommendation.

Pfizer had urged AstraZeneca shareholders to agitate for engagement and several expressed disappointment at its intransigence, although others - encouraged by AstraZeneca's promising drug pipeline - backed the firm's standalone strategy.

AstraZeneca Chairman Leif Johansson welcomed Pfizer's decision to back down, which he said would allow the British company to focus on its growth potential as an independent company.

What happens next will depend upon whether AstraZeneca's share price deteriorates in the coming weeks and how hard its shareholders push for it to revisit a deal with Pfizer.

BlackRock, AstraZeneca's biggest shareholder, backed the board's rejection of Pfizer's 55 pounds a share offer, but urged it to talk again in the future.

POLITICAL OPPOSITION

The proposed transaction ran into fierce opposition from politicians in Britain, Sweden - where AstraZeneca has half it roots - and the United States over the likelihood that the marriage would lead to thousands of job cuts.

Ultimately, it was price and the lack of room for eleventh-hour maneuvering by Pfizer that killed the deal.

Pfizer had several reasons for taking aim at AstraZeneca for what would have been its fourth mega-merger in 14 years.

Highest on the list appeared to be Pfizer's desire to take part in a recent trend of so-called tax inversions, under which it could reincorporate in Britain and pay significantly lower corporate tax. Pfizer would also be able to use tens of billions of dollars it has parked overseas, avoiding high U.S. taxes for repatriating the huge cash pile.

Pfizer also had its eye on a promising portfolio of drugs in AstraZeneca's developmental pipeline, especially several potentially lucrative cancer medicines.

It was this pipeline that AstraZeneca management used to make its case for Pfizer significantly undervaluing the company.

Chief Executive Pascal Soriot went as far as making a 10-year forecast for a 75 percent rise in sales by 2023.

"As we said from the start, the pursuit of this transaction was a potential enhancement to our existing strategy," Pfizer's Read said. "We will continue our focus on the execution of our plans, bringing forth new treatments to meet patients' needs and remaining responsible stewards of our shareholders' capital."

The merger would have restored Pfizer as the world's largest drugmaker by sales, a position it relinquished to Swiss-based Novartis when billions of dollars in annual revenue evaporated after its top-selling cholesterol fighter Lipitor began facing generic competition in 2011.

(Editing by David Evans and Mark Potter)

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Comments (2)
111Dave111 wrote:
All Pfizer cares about is Wall Street / Balance Sheet.

Mergers and Acquisitions, “political concerns”, and “corporate tax maneuvers”.

Why worry about developing drugs, vaccines, medical innovation, and corporate integrity as an employer?

May 26, 2014 2:27pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
fighting cancer is great, but some of these pharmacons need to double-down on new antibiotics…the current rate of resistant bacteria might knock the bottom out of the civilization supporting them.

I am relieved to see that the UK has these regulations with waiting periods, yet are hostile takeovers really off the table for good? I hardly see some corp giving up their dream of tax inversion just because of some pesky regulations.

May 27, 2014 3:14am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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