GlaxoSmithKline Plc rejected an offer from Unilever Plc for the consumer healthcare unit of the drugmaker last year that valued the business at about 50 billion pounds $68 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.
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Unilever said in a statement on Saturday that the Glaxo unit would be a strong strategic fit as the owner of Ben Jerry's ice cream and Dove soap reshapes its portfolio.
Unilever is still interested and could return with a fresh bid, though no final decision has been made, said the people. Glaxo s board is open to all proposals but the bid is not within a range it would consider, they said, adding that a spin-off of a business that includes brands such as Sensodyne toothpaste and Advil painkillers remains the preference.
Since the beginning of the coronaviruses, a potential takeover would rank among the top deals in the world, and comes at a time when mergers and acquisitions activity is at an all-time high. A deal would speed up the transformation of two of the U.K.'s biggest companies, each of which is facing shareholder pressure to improve performance.
With analysts valuing the Glaxo consumer business at as much as 48 billion pounds, an offer from Unilever would likely include a significant premium over that level, as well as consideration of synergies to tempt Glaxo away from the spin-off plan, which is already at an advanced stage.
The people said that the dental business is the main draw in the Glaxo consumer portfolio, as almost all other businesses and brands are either losing momentum or growing slowly. The consumer health unit took shape in 2019 after a deal with Pfizer Inc., which retains a minority stake.
As a way to revitalize the core pharmaceutical business, Glaxo Chief Executive Officer Emma Walmsley has been under pressure from shareholders, including activist fund Elliott Investment Management. The former Tesco Plc chief executive Dave Lewis was hired in December to lead a spin-off and listing of the consumer goods arm.
Glaxo had previously had interest from Advent International, CVC Capital Partners and KKR Co. for the business, even though it had been preparing for the listing last fall.
Some investors are concerned about the company's poor performance of late, which is why the company's CEO Alan Jope is under pressure.
Terry Smith, founder of Fundsmith LLP and one of the top 15 shareholders of Unilever, has criticized the group in his annual letter to investors. He said the company's brands, which include Hellmann s mayonnaise and Domestos cleaners, had lost the plot due to the focus on public displaying sustainability credentials at the expense of focusing on the business.
Jope is the head of the sustainability drive spearheaded by former CEO Paul Polman. Under the two CEOs, Unilever has reshaped its portfolio, selling slower-growing businesses such as its spreads unit and more recently its tea business, while buying Glaxo's consumer operation in India that includes the Horlicks brand.
The shares have fallen 10% over the past 12 months, compared with a 20% gain for competitor Nestle SA, where CEO Mark Schneider has taken more aggressive steps to seek new growth and cull underperforming units.
Unilever a little over a year ago has merged into a single U.K. based entity, ditching its dual nationality and reversing an earlier plan to consolidate in the Netherlands. One reason why I renounced the cumbersome structure was to ease prospects for transformative merger and acquisition deals.
According to the people familiar with the situation, Deutsche Bank AG and Centerview Partners LLC are advising Unilever. In June, Bloomberg News reported that Glaxo is working with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Citigroup Inc. on the listing and activist defense.
The Times first reported on the Unilever offer on Saturday.
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