Comment: Pfizer - dead or resting?

Pfizer’s attempt to acquire its British rival AstraZeneca has been declared lost, though the mood among analysts is that the US firm will be back.

Terry Murden. Picture: Ian Georgeson

The Astra board’s immediate rejection of the third and higher offer of £55 a share from its suitor was enough to persuade investors to sell and the shares fell 11 per cent to just under £43.

But the Astra board’s hints that it would have been tempted by an offer of £59 a share effectively put a price on the company. Astra is in play and Pfizer now knows how much it will have to pay - all other factors remaining constant.

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Questions are now being asked about why Pfizer didn’t go hostile. Clearly some shareholders were happy to accept the £55 a share offer which represented a premium of more than 50 per cent on the price before Pfizer showed its hand in January.

It may be that the Pfizer board simply felt a hostile bid would not endear it to disgruntled politicians, competition authorities and the public worried about job losses in British research labs.

Getting an Astra board recommendation would at least prove that it had removed the biggest obstacle and that its arguments in favour of the tie-up were shared by both companies.

As it is, Pfizer has to contend with being cast as the villain of the piece, largely because of its track record of closures and cutbacks. Some sceptics had little confidence in either its promises on jobs or its motives for the deal, particularly its plan to switch its tax base from the US to the cheaper UK.

This defeat may therefore persuade it into mounting a six-month charm offensive to try and win over those who felt that price alone was not enough to sway their decision.