Aventis buys time for Rhodia sale

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Related tags: Aventis, Pharmaceutical industry, Sanofi-aventis

Aventis could hang on to its 15 per cent stake in chemicals company
Rhodia under the terms of a new agreement with the European
Commission. The company will instead sell off its 49 per cent stake
in Wacker Chemie over the next several years.

The Franco-German pharmaceutical company, currently defending itself from a €48 billion takeover by Sanofi-Synthelabo, said: "In light of the current financial situation at Rhodia, Aventis had sought added flexibility to secure its own financial interest by allowing Rhodia to adequately restructure its operations."

Rhodia's shares have been on the slide over the last 12 months, with mounting losses leading to a restructuring and swingeing job cuts and the departure of former chief executive Jean-Pierre Tirouflet last October.

Aventis had been due to sell off all but 5 per cent of Rhodia by April of this year. Meanwhile, the US Federal Trade Commission has also given the company some breathing space, offering it an extra year to divest its stake in Rhodia.

White knights reluctant

Aventis' defence against the Sanofi bid also broadened last week as it reportedly named four companies that it would rather join with. Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson and number one pharma company Pfizer have all been singled out by Aventis as merger candidates, according to newspaper reports across Europe.

However, GSK CEO Jean-Pierre Garnier moved swiftly to dispel any talk of a link, while AstraZeneca and Procter & Gamble have also ruled themselves out. Novartis is said to be looking into the possibility of a bid, but could have too much overlap with Aventis in its business and not enough scope for cost-cutting.

Aventis' official line is that a counterbid is not a priority and the company's best interests will be served by remaining an independent concern. And analysts have speculated that a white knight is unlikely to appear, given the French government's blessing of a Sanofi-Synthelabo marriage.

Aventis chief executive, Igor Landau, has dismissed Sanofi's offer as 'ridiculously low', noting that 40-50 per cent would have to be added to make it a realistic option.

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