LONDON/NEW YORK: Pfizer abandoned its attempt to buy AstraZeneca for nearly $118bn yesterday 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 manoeuvres.
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 pm (1600 GMT) 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 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 US 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 as undervaluing the company, the British group indicated it needed a bid more than 10 percent higher, or at least £58.85 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 a share offer, but urged it to talk again in the future.
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 manoeuvring 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.