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Inverness Medical Makes Boldest Bet Yet

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Inverness Medical Innovations (IMA) has now decided to splurge on challenged Matria Healthcare (MATR - Get Report), as it continues forward with a nonstop shopping spree.

In its biggest purchase so far, Inverness will pay $900 million in cash and stock for the struggling disease-management company. It will assume $280 million in debt as well, pushing the total value of the deal toward $1.3 billion.

Inverness specializes in offering key medical services to patients in their homes. The company expects its ambitious buyout of Matria, which has strengths in women's health, oncology and disease management, to further accelerate its acquisition-driven growth.

Inverness is paying $6.50 in cash, plus $32.50 in premium-priced convertible stock, for each Matria share. Inverness' stock tumbled 8.3% to $47.92 on the news.

Meanwhile, shares of Matria climbed 5.9% to $32.44. While the stock now sits near its 52-week high, it still fetches less than the $45 it commanded at its peak two years ago.

Back then, Matria's stock had been soaring on a big acquisition meant to transform the company into a leader in the booming disease-management space. But Matria has suffered numerous setbacks, repeatedly missing Wall Street targets, since that time.

Less than two weeks ago, Matria announced it was mulling a sale .

"Teaming up with Inverness represents a significant opportunity for Matria and our patients, clients and partners," Matria CEO Parker "Pete" Petit said on Monday. "We have some very unique opportunities to dramatically improve the interventions with patients through the expanded products and services Matria can offer as a result of this combination."

Inverness does not normally shop for deals with billion-dollar price tags. In recent months, even the largest of its many deals -- such as its $302 million buyout of Alere Medical and its $230 million purchase of ParadigmHealth -- have come at a fraction of that price.

For its part, Inverness insists that its latest move makes sense.

"We view the acquisition of Matria as an important part of our overall health management growth strategy," Inverness CEO Ron Zwanziger stated on Monday. "The addition of Matria provides Inverness with health and disease management market-leading positions in women's health, oncology and cardiology -- three critical areas of strategic focus for Inverness."

Still, money seems to burn a hole in Inverness's pockets these days. Since Nov. 21, when Inverness raised $800 million through a public offering of its stock, the company has announced half-a-dozen different acquisitions. Moreover, it was swapping its stock for smaller companies even before that time.

It managed to raise a few eyebrows along the way.

"Growth through share dilution can be a good, fast way for a company to grow," wrote last summer, following Inverness' eighth acquisition in 18 months. "But it's also a great way to lower shareholder value if the company can't take full advantage of the weaknesses of the companies it acquires.

"Even if these are stellar deals," added, "you have to wonder whether management can take full advantage of the synergies among all of the companies with so many mergers on its plate."

Matria could present the greatest challenges that Inverness has faced so far. After all, Matria completed its own ambitious acquisition not so long ago, buying rival CorSolutions. And it has struggled to make that deal pay off ever since.

Now, Inverness must step in and try to succeed where Matria has, so far, repeatedly failed.

"On the health management side, this is an area that is more recent to us," Zwanziger admitted at an analyst conference earlier this month. But "there is tremendous growth opportunity in this space."

Meanwhile, he reminded, "we have quite a track record in terms of acquisitions."

Thanks to those acquisitions, Inverness has enjoyed quite a growth spurt as well. Just six years ago, the company was a relatively new medical player focused on pregnancy testing. It has since expanded to become a market leader in diagnostics, in general, and an emerging force in broad-based health management overall.

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