Interest in Consumer Drug Buys Waning?

06.02.2018 -

Pharmaceutical companies’ interest in buying consumer health businesses is waning, with more players interested in shedding the activities than acquiring them, reports suggest.

According to the news agency Reuters, Nestle has stepped back as leader in a deal to buy Merck KGaA’s consumer health businesses. At the same time, only GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Reckitt Benckiser are said to be still interested in the Pfizer assets.

While GSK has not commented recently, at the end of last year its ardor for taking on the Pfizer portfolio appeared to have cooled.

A spokesperson for Merck told Reuters that “the process of evaluating options for our consumer health business is well on track.” The news agency said, however, that Nestle had backed away from a deal as expectations that the unit should bring up to 20 times core earnings would put the price at about €4 billion (just under $5 billion). The business has annual sales of about $1 billion.

In addition to price, the trade journal Fierce Pharma commented that Nestle’s apparent withdrawal may have been triggered by activist investor Dan Loeb, whose Third Point hedge fund last year made a $3.5 billion investment in the Swiss group. Loeb has pushed Nestle to look for deals in high-growing areas such as pet care and bottled water.

The journal added that Reckitt Benckiser may be more interested in Pfizer's consumer business than in Merck’s.

Bloomberg, meanwhile, citing unnamed sources, suggested that both Nestle and Johnson & Johnson have dropped out as potential bidders for Pfizer’s consumer unit, which is expected to fetch $15-20 billion. The deadline for non-binding bids has now passed and final bids are expected in a few weeks.

A Pfizer spokeswoman told Bloomberg the US pharmaceutical giant is still considering all its options for the consumer unit, including a swap or a spinoff, but also may decide to retain it.