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Activist Shorts Austerity, Goes Long M&A

Valeant is just one example in a hotbed of M&A activity in the healthcare sector.

Recently, Pfizer (PFE) took a baby step in an ambitious plan to divest its non-drugs businesses. Meanwhile, Watson Pharmaceuticals (PFE) shares have surged on its acquisition of Actavis, and industry players Abbott Laboratories (ABT), Bristol Meyers Squibb (BMY) and Covidien (COV) have all announced split plans. Warner Chilcott (WCRX) has also recently come up as a takeover candidate, in the booming pharmaceutical M&A market, which at $14 billion in deals, is up 44% from 2011 levels as of April 26, according to ThomsonReuters data.

In first quarter earnings released on Thursday, Valeant reported earnings per share of $1.14, exceeding the average analyst estimate of 97 cents, but shares gains were muted on falling markets. Since its Biovail deal, Valeant's market cap has more than doubled to $18 billion, and it's among the top 20 drug makers by market cap, excluding biotech, with its CEO Michael Pearson intent to challenge the top 10 in coming years, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Adobe, on the other hand, is in the very early stages of an M&A-fueled transition into serving mobile and Web publishers, after cutting strategic, but premium-priced deals for Macromedia, Omniture and Day Technologies, says Ubben.

That comes as Adobe stops developing its Flash Web product, which wasn't carried on Apple's (AAPL) booming iPhone, and is facing what would seem to be existential competition in the release of HTML5. As Ubben presented Adobe, a tech icon he acknowledges has a flat performance profile like perceived PC-dinosaurs Microsoft (MSFT) and Symantec (SYMC), some shook their heads with skepticism and flashed wry smiles at Monday's summit.

Doubters aren't likely to bother a contrarian like Ubben, who devotes his time to picking turnarounds that the rest of the investing world doesn't see.

He expects that companies like Conde Nast will rely on Adobe's suite of products for the bulk of their digital publishing needs, calling analytics specialist Omniture, the company's "crown jewel," though it and Macromedia are yet to return above their cost of capital. "I'm much more tolerant of low return strategic deals than I ever have been because no one is doing it," says Ubben.

As Adobe prepares for the launch of its Creative Suite 6 and Creative Cloud later in May, Adobe's first major CS product release in years, analysts are beginning to agree with Ubben's overall thesis. "CS6 is the first major upgrade of the core applications and is best captured by one reviewer as 'it updates 10% of the functionality that is used 90% of the time,'" writes Deutsche Bank analyst Tom Ernst in a April 24 note. "HTML5 in CS and integration with tools from Omniture and Day can lead to higher adoption of its Digital Marketing products creating a virtuous circle for Adobe," notes Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Kash Rangan in an April 24 note.

Deutsche Bank and Bank of America Merrill Lynch rate Adobe shares a buy with $42 and $37 price targets, respectively. Overall, San Jose-based Adobe receives a consensus $35.35 price target on 12 buy recommendations, 13 holds and 3 sells, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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