Alcon Group Says Novartis Bid 'Inadequate' - TheStreet

HUENENBERG, Switzerland (

TheStreet

) -- The Independent Director Committee of

Alcon

(ACL)

said

Novartis'

(NVS) - Get Report

bid to acquire the minority publicly traded shares of Alcon is "grossly inadequate."

In a statement Wednesday, the group also said "the financial analysis upon which Novartis' unilateral proposal is based is fundamentally flawed."

Earlier this month, Novartis

exercised its call option

to buy

Nestle's

remaining 52% stake in eyecare company Alcon for about $28 billion in cash. Novartis is buying the Alcon shares for $180 each, raising its stake in Alcon to 77%.

The Independent Director Committee of Alcon pointed out that Novartis proposed to acquire the Alcon shares at a price of 2.8 shares of Novartis for each share of Alcon, which is valued at $151.43 as of Tuesday because of a decline in Novartis' share price.

That's "significantly below the $180 in cash that will be paid by Novartis to acquire its majority position," the committee said.

-- Reported by Joseph Woelfel in New York.

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The Committee also announced that the coercive tactics deployed by Novartis are offensive and demonstrate a profound disrespect for Alcon's minority shareholders, many of whom are employees who, for more than 60 years, created the value in Alcon. The Novartis proposal would inequitably and unfairly distribute that value to its two largest shareholders, which is neither befitting a company of Novartis' stature nor equitable to the Alcon shareholders, many of whom have been long-term investors since the initial public offering in 2002. The Committee notes that Alcon employees are one of the largest minority shareholders.The Committee reached this decision after a careful review of the terms and financial aspects of Novartis' proposal and analysis of information provided by Alcon and its senior management team about the company's past and anticipated financial performance, growth prospects and merger synergy opportunities. The Committee worked closely with its independent financial and legal advisors, Greenhill & Co., Sullivan & Cromwell LLP and Pestalozzi, Zurich, in undertaking its analysis.Novartis proposed acquiring Alcon shares at a price of 2.8 shares of Novartis for each share of Alcon through a compulsory merger transaction. As of January 19, 2010, the proposal is valued at $151.43 per Alcon share due to the decline in Novartis' stock price, significantly below the $180 in cash that will be paid by Novartis to acquire its majority position.Thomas G. Plaskett, Chairman of the Committee, said, "The Committee strongly believes that the underlying historical record and Management's expected future financial performance of Alcon justify a significantly higher price than that reflected in the current proposal by Novartis. Moreover, minority shareholders have rights accorded to them that must be respected."Plaskett added, "We understand and are concerned that the current situation is disconcerting to the highly valuable employee asset base at Alcon, many of whom are shareholders, and we appreciate their continuing hard work and dedication as we work through these issues at the Board level."The Committee believes that the financial methodology used by Novartis intentionally ignored Alcon's documented market and operational performance, including Alcon's history of trading at a premium valuation compared to its peers. The market has consistently recognized and awarded Alcon a premium for its attractive fundamentals, industry leadership and outperformance of quarterly earnings expectations 26 out of 29 times since its 2002 IPO.The Committee also recognizes that the price offered to public shareholders is substantially lower than that which will be paid to Nestlé for the controlling stake, which is virtually unprecedented in the recent history of similar transactions.The Committee also reiterates its disappointment with Novartis' public implication that Novartis can essentially force Alcon's minority shareholders to accept the terms of its proposal. In fact, the Committee believes that Swiss law and Alcon's Organizational Regulations specifically protect minority rights by requiring that a committee of independent directors approve a proposed merger with a majority shareholder. The Committee believes those rights were reaffirmed and strengthened by Alcon's full board of directors as recently as December 2008 when, following Novartis' initial purchase from Nestlé of an approximately 25 percent stake in Alcon, the Alcon Board of Directors approved the formation of a standing committee of independent directors whose stated purpose is to protect the minority shareholders. Dr. Vasella, the Novartis representative on the Alcon Board, was a board member at the time and approved the formation of the Committee.Plaskett continued, "Advocates of sound corporate governance and well-established principles of fairness and equity in both Switzerland and the U.S. are rightly offended by Novartis' coercive attempts to take advantage of the Alcon minority shareholders. The Committee will evaluate and take all appropriate and available steps to ensure that the rights of Alcon's minority shareholders are not trampled on in the manner proposed by Novartis."The Committee also believes that Swiss law and Alcon's organizational documents require directors to recuse themselves from decisions on which they are conflicted, which means that the non-independent Novartis-appointed directors would be required to abstain from any Alcon Board decision as to whether or not to approve Novartis' merger proposal. Likewise, conflicted directors would also be required to abstain from voting with respect to the replacement of any Committee members and any other action taken with the purpose of circumventing the authority of the truly independent Committee members to accept or reject the merger proposal.The Committee has posted additional information including answers to frequently asked questions, a summary of its financial analysis, and links to the Swiss Code of Obligations, the Swiss Merger Act and the Alcon Organizational Regulations on their Web site: www.transactioninfo.com/alcon.