* Number of bidders positive surprise - VEM
* VEM says “very satisfied” with level of bids
* Sale as whole remains priority
* Bidders comprise drugmakers and buyout firms
(Adds details, background)
FRANKFURT, Nov 5 (Reuters) - VEM, the owner of German generic drugmaker Ratiopharm, said it was satisfied with the first-round offers received for the forced sale of the unit, indicating that bidding could turn competitive.
A spokesman for the Merckle family investment vehicle VEM said on Thursday it was positively surprised by the number of bids, which were not binding, and that it was “very satisfied” with the level of the offers.
Both drug makers and financial investors filed offers before the deadline for indicative bids on Wednesday, he added.
Encouraged by the interest from suitors, the sale of Ratiopharm as a whole remained a priority, he said.
VEM owner Ludwig Merckle, who is selling Ratiopharm as part of concessions made by his late father to creditor banks, is hoping for proceeds of up to 3.5 billion euros ($5.16 billion), one source close to the deal has said, but generic-industry insiders have dismissed that figure as far out of reach.
Two sources close to the proceedings told Reuters on Thursday that several bids exceeded 2 billion euros, while some were markedly above that figure. [ID:nWEA9067]
Ratiopharm declined to give the value of the bids.
A source with direct knowledge of the generics industry told Reuters last month that a promising approach would be to split off Ratiopharm’s more profitable Canadian business, accounting for 12 percent of 2008 group sales, and sell it separately. (Reporting by Ludwig Burger, Philipp Halstrick and Frank Siebelt, editing by Will Waterman) ($1=.6782 Euro)