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Greenberg: Valeant's $150 Billion 'Mistake'

By: Herb Greenberg | 05/29/14 - 02:37 PM EDT

This originally was published on Herb Greenberg's Reality Check.

SAN DIEGO (TheStreet) -- I'm a day late and a dollar short with this one, as I was tied up on other stories Wednesday. But, the most significant thing that came out of Valeant's (VRX) investor call Wednesday, in my opinion, was this comment from CEO Mike Pearson:

"I probably was incorrect in talking about the $150 billion market cap company. That was just more a statement that we are not just going to sit back and do nothing and that we are just like each of the business units as hungry to achieve organic growth and continue to build shareholder value."

Later in the day, at an investment conference, Pearson added:

"And I think we put -- maybe putting the $150 billion number out was a mistake, but I think our investors understood that. It meant that we're not satisfied with where we are. We're going to continue to try to build and drive shareholder value. And if you do that, you're eventually going to have a higher market cap."

They were "incorrect" about discussing the $150 billion market cap? It was a "mistake"?

Taking back what he said now is equally as absurd as the comment was the day he made it. And it wasn't some idle comment that was an afterthought while he was answering some question.

It was part of Person's scripted comments on the Jan. 7 earnings call. Let's roll the tape:

"And finally, two years ago, we introduced a strategic initiative to be a Top 15 pharmaceutical company by the end of 2013. With that now achieved, today we are introducing our sixth strategic initiative, which is to become one of the top five most valuable pharmaceutical companies as measured by market cap by the end of 2016. This equates to roughly $150 billion in market cap."

On that call, when he was pressed further -- on how he's going to virtually triple the company's market cap in three years -- Pearson said:

"For us to get there, it will require two things. One is continuing to outperform in our base business, which at this point includes Bausch & Lomb. So we would look to continue to -- we have a very strong set of products that we're launching this year. We have similar strong pipeline for the following year. So we feel good about our base business, but obviously, to get to that number, it's going to take significant business development activity as well, so we're counting on both. That's been our record historically, and I guess the main message is more of the same."

He didn't stop there. Later that day, in a Goldman Sachs presentation, when pressed by analyst Gary Nachman on whether Valeant could reach the $150 billion target with just one acquisition, Pearson said:

"Well, one and we'd be delevered and then we'd have lots of capacity. So I don't think we need more than one. And quite frankly, we can do a partial merger of equals too, cash and -- it's just a -- we have a lot of firepower in total and I don't know, is the task of growing from $1 billion to $40 billion in six years more difficult than the task of growing from $40 billion to $150 billion in three? I don't know. People have always been skeptical and that is our job to -- our investors are rooting us on and others are rooting against us. That's life."

Oh, that's life, alright. Pearson's $150 billion target, at a company built on acquisitions, caused Valeant's shares to shoot up 12% and then head considerably higher before they gave up much of those gains.

Reality: This is what happens when a CEO gets so intoxicated by his own skyrocketing stock that he falls into the classic trap of confusing the stock for the company. I mean, tripling his company's market cap to $150 billion in three years: Really?

Sorry, the joke is on us.

When I first wrote about Valeant in Reality Check in January, the headline was, "Will Valeant Overdose on Acquisitions?" The answer, it appears, may be yes.

And Pearson's concession Wednesday that the $150 billion comment was little more than a "mistake" is the first tangible evidence.

-- Written by Herb Greenberg in San Diego

Herb Greenberg, editor of Herb Greenberg's Reality Check, is a contributor to CNBC. He does not own shares, short or trade shares in an individual corporate security. He can be reached at herbonthestreet@thestreet.com.

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