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Woodford salutes Astra's 'resolute resistance' to Pfizer
Star fund manager says Astra's snub to Pfizer is good news for shareholders and the country.
Star fund manager Neil Woodford has said he is 'relieved' pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca (AZN) has fought off a takeover bid from US rival Pfizer, claiming the long-term future for the company now 'looks very bright indeed'.
Woodford has an AstraZeneca stake through the £3.5 billion mandate he runs for financial sales force St James's Place, and was previously one of its biggest shareholders through the Income and High Income funds he ran for Invesco Perpetual. Woodford quit Invesco last year and is in the process of launching his own fund and firm.
AstraZeneca yesterday rejected Pfizer's 'final' bid for the company of £55-per-share, sending Astra shares tumbling. 'It would appear that Pfizer's pursuit of AstraZeneca has now failed,' said Woodford.
'Yesterday's fall in AstraZeneca's share price reflects selling by those shareholders who were hoping for a deal and "risk arbitration" funds which are now exiting their positions,' he added. 'I am, however, relieved that AstraZeneca appears to have retained its independence. I applaud the board's resolute resistance of the Pfizer approach.'
Woodford said the strength of the drugs in Astra's pipeline meant resisting the bid was in shareholders' interests. He argued the renaissance of AstraZeneca under chief executive Pascal Soriot pointed to strong potential for these future products.
'Two years ago AstraZeneca's reserach and development division was languishing, riven with risk aversion following a string of late stage pipeline disappointments,' he said. 'It now boasts 19 products that are either in or entering late stage trials by the end of 2015. Each of them has the potential to deliver significantly improved patient outcomes and billions of dollars in sales.'
City rules mean that the only way a Pfizer takeover could go ahead would be for AstraZeneca shareholders to place enough pressure on its board to reconsider the offer before a deadline of next Monday.
AstraZeneca's biggest shareholders are divided over the bid. AXA Investment Managers, Schroders and Jupiter Asset Management, Astra's third, 12th and 26th biggest shareholders respectively, have criticised the company's management for opposing the bid. Aberdeen Asset Management and M&G Investments, the ninth and 25th largest have, like Woodford, backed Astra's rejection of the deal.
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