Unilever eyes GSK-Pfizer unit despite $64bn bid rebuff

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Unilever has revealed ongoing interest in a consumer healthcare unit owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer after a bid of £50 billion was refused. AFP File Photo
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  • GSK said it had received three unsolicited offers from Unilever for GSK Consumer Healthcare, but they were rejected for being too low
  • The unit's products include Sensodyne toothpaste, pain-relief drug Panadol, and cold treatment Theraflu

Consumer goods giant Unilever on Monday revealed ongoing interest in a consumer healthcare unit owned by pharmaceutical groups GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer after a bid of £50 billion ($68.4 billion) was refused.

British group GSK said at the weekend that it had received three unsolicited offers from Unilever for GSK Consumer Healthcare, but were rejected for being too low.

The unit’s products include Sensodyne toothpaste, pain relief drug Panadol and cold treatment Theraflu.

“GSK Consumer Healthcare would be a strong strategic fit,” British company Unilever said in a statement as it unveiled a strategy update in the wake of the weekend’s takeover news.

“Unilever’s future strategic direction lies in materially expanding its presence in health, beauty and hygiene,” it said.

“These categories offer higher rates of sustainable market growth, with significant opportunities to drive growth through investment and innovation, and by leveraging Unilever’s strong presence in emerging markets.”

The latest bid was received on December 20 for a total acquisition value of £50 billion, comprising £41.7 billion ($57.05 billion) in cash and £8.3 billion ($11.35 billion) in Unilever shares.

GSK owns a majority 68 percent of the unit with US giant Pfizer the remainder.

‘Undervalued’

“The board of GSK unanimously concluded that the proposals were not in the best interests of GSK shareholders as they fundamentally undervalued the consumer healthcare business and its future prospects,” said a statement at the weekend.

The consumer healthcare business had annual sales of £9.6 billion ($13.24 billion) last year.

“As a result of the reporting of Unilever’s interest in GSK Consumer Healthcare, we are today bringing forward a planned update, setting out the strategic direction that the company is pursuing,” Unilever said.

In its strategic update, Unilever said “major acquisitions should be accompanied by the accelerated divestment of intrinsically lower growth brands and businesses. This would provide funding.”

Purchase of the GSK-Pfizer unit “would create scale and a growth platform for the combined portfolio in the US, China, and India, with further opportunities in other emerging markets”, Unilever added.

Unilever in November agreed to sell its global tea business, including brands Lipton and PG Tips, for €4.5 billion ($5.14 billion).

Unilever, whose products include also Magnum ice cream, Cif surface cleaner, and Dove soap, completed the merger of its Dutch and British corporate entities in 2020.

The group meanwhile recently posted rising sales thanks to price hikes.

The world is experiencing strong inflation as economies reopen from pandemic lockdowns amid supply constraints and strong demand.

Costs of raw materials and energy are surging, while a number of sectors are impacted additionally by a need to pay higher wages as they struggle to find staff.

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