* Germany's Bayer now seen as a leading contender
* No final decision made by Merck
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By Martinne Geller
LONDON, April 30 Reckitt Benckiser Group
said on Wednesday it was no longer in active talks with Merck &
Co about buying its consumer health business, leaving
Germany's Bayer as a leading contender for the $14
Bayer has offered to swap its animal health assets for the
Merck consumer business that includes Coppertone sunscreen and
pay the remainder of the price in cash, Reuters reported on
Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter.
That swap may have given Bayer a leg up, since Reckitt,
known for paying top dollar for attractive assets, backed down.
"We are a highly disciplined acquirer with strict return
metrics, which we will not break," said Reckitt Benckiser Chief
Executive Rakesh Kapoor in an emailed statement.
"The consumer health market remains highly fragmented and we
will continue to evaluate opportunities that fit both our
strategic and financial criteria."
Merck has not made a final decision on any sale and there is
no guarantee that Bayer will emerge as the winner, people
familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
The auction also drew interest from other healthcare and
consumer giants including Boehringer Ingelheim, Sanofi SA
, Procter & Gamble Co and Novartis AG,
Reuters previously reported.
The consumer health sector has seen a wave of deals as it
benefits from ageing populations in the West and rising incomes
in emerging markets.
Last week, Prestige Brands Holdings agreed to pay
$750 million for the maker of e.p.t home pregnancy tests and
Sucrets cough lozenges, while Reckitt last month agreed to buy
the global rights for the K-Y intimate lubricant brand from
Johnson & Johnson.
Merck and Bayer declined to comment.
Bayer has a diverse portfolio that includes over-the-counter
remedies such as Aleve and Alka-Seltzer and an animal health
business with annual sales of 1.3 billion euros ($1.8 billion).
In 2012, Bayer lost out to Reckitt in the battle for Schiff
Nutrition, after Reckitt offered $1.3 billion for entry into the
U.S. vitamin and supplements market.
Reckitt, which also makes Mucinex and Nurofen medicines,
said on Monday that it was in talks to buy Merck's consumer
business, the latest asset up for grabs in a string of
(Reporting by Martinne Geller in London; Additional reporting
by Frank Siebelt in Frankfurt; Editing by Keiron Henderson and