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Business Concentrates

March 22, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 12

Novartis emerges as possible white knight for Aventis

A potential white knight has appeared in Sanofi-Synthélabo's bitterly contested $60 billion attempt to acquire Aventis. Swiss drug giant Novartis weighed in on the Gallic squabble, confirming in a press release that it is "exploring the feasibility of a combination with Aventis." A deal between Novartis and Aventis would create a drug firm second in size only to Pfizer. A Sanofi-Aventis combination, on the other hand, would create the number three drug firm behind GlaxoSmithKline. Novartis says it has notified AMF, the French stock market authority, that it is investigating the option of acquiring Aventis, but that it is currently undecided on whether to pursue a transaction. Sanofi declined to comment. However, Sanofi CEO Jean-François Dehecq reportedly acknowledged in a teleconference that reaction in the financial markets to the Novartis development may require Sanofi to raise its bid.

BASF continues restructuring

BASF says it is nearing completion of the first phase of its $250 million North American restructuring program. The first phase, announced in August, included 1,000 layoffs in support functions such as information technology, human resources, and finance. Starting this year, BASF says, these measures will save it $100 million annually. The company says phase two, meant to save $150 million annually by 2006, is under way, with 400 jobs already shed. The company expects that 350 more positions will be eliminated in the program. Planned projects in the restructuring include closing an expandable polystyrene plant in South Brunswick, N.J., and transferring production to Altamira, Mexico. The company is also leaving its North American headquarters in Mount Olive, N.J., and moving to a smaller space in Florham Park, N.J.

Mitsui plans China PTA plant

Mitsui Chemicals is planning to build a 600,000-metric-ton-per-year purified terephthalic acid (PTA) plant at the Jiangsu Zhangjiagang Free Trade Zone in eastern China. The company has applied for Chinese approval for the wholly owned project, which will use Mitsui's own technology. Mitsui does not say when it expects the plant to go onstream or how much it will invest. With its partner, Siam Cement, Mitsui is now building a PTA plant in Thailand with capacity of 500,000 metric tons. It is expected to open next year, joining two existing plants at the Thai site with combined capacity of 900,000 metric tons.

Symyx and Dow advance pact

Dow Chemical's single-site-catalyst-based Versify ethylene-propylene copolymers, unveiled last month, are another result of a five-year catalyst development collaboration between Dow and the high-throughput-screening specialist Symyx Technologies. The new polymer family--offering good optical properties, sealing performance, elasticity, and softness--is intended for packaging and consumer applications. Dow says the elastomers were developed in only two years; the firm will start making them on a commercial scale later this year. The partners announced the first fruit of their collaboration, a new amide-ether-based hafnium catalyst for polyolefins, a year ago.

Ciba expands in services

Ciba Specialty Chemicals is expanding its Ciba Expert Services unit by acquiring Pira International, a U.K.-based supplier of services to the packaging, paper, printing, and publishing industries. Pira, which employs 140 people, provides strategic and technical consulting and operates publishing and conference businesses. Ciba provides similar services in areas such as color, testing, safety, and education.

Bayer debuts Lanxess

Bayer, which last week posted a net loss of $1.7 billion on sales of $34.9 billion for 2003, has unveiled Lanxess as the new name for its chemicals business. Lanxess--which combines the French word "lancer," meaning to set in motion, and the English word "success"--begins life as home for most of Bayer's industrial chemicals and approximately one-third of its polymers. Lanxess will have 20,000 employees and expects sales of roughly $7.3 billion this year. It is to be listed on international stock markets by early 2005 at the latest. Bayer will decide between an initial public offering and a spin-off to existing stockholders in the second half of this year, Chairman Werner Wenning says.

ISP expands elastomers

ISP is expanding by 50% the hot polymerized styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR) capacity at its Port Neches, Texas, facility, which it acquired from bankrupt Ameripol Synpol last year. The company says the expansion of the product line, used in specialty applications such as adhesives and sealants, underscores its emphasis on specialty SBR rather than commodity SBR products such as tire rubber. The company says the move was also prompted by Dow Chemical's decision to close a hot emulsion facility in Pernis, the Netherlands.

Enzon chief to head Bayer health unit

Arthur J. Higgins will resign as CEO of Enzon Pharmaceuticals, effective May 10, to become CEO of Bayer Healthcare. The 48-year-old Higgins will replace Rolf Classon, 58, who is retiring. Higgins, who holds a B.S. in biochemistry from Strathclyde University, in Scotland, started his career in the U.K. at Bristol-Myers. He subsequently worked at Sandoz and Fisons. Higgins moved to the U.S. to join Abbott Laboratories, where he was president of Abbott's pharmaceutical division from 1998 to 2001. Since 2001, he has been chairman and CEO of Enzon.

Fisher boosts life sciences with new deal

Research equipment supplier Fisher Scientific International has agreed to acquire Apogent Technologies in a stock swap that values Apogent at $3.7 billion. In its last fiscal year, Apogent had $1.1 billion in sales of consumables and other products for clinical diagnostics and life sciences research. The purchase will be the latest in a string of deals for Fisher, which has been trying to increase its presence in the life sciences end of the research market. In February, it announced the acquisitions of Oxoid and Dharmacon, two biochemical suppliers, and last year it purchased bioresearch consumables maker Perbio.

Ecolab acquires biocide maker

Ecolab has agreed to acquire biocide maker Alcide Corp. in a stock swap valued at about $57 million. Alcide, which had $22 million in sales in its last fiscal year, markets biocidal products to the animal health, medical, and food-processing industries. Its fastest growing product is Sanova, a chlorous acid-based disinfectant used in poultry and beef processing. Ecolab CEO Allan L. Schuman says the purchase should accelerate the commercialization of Alcide's technology.

Great Lakes, OxyChem in pact

Great Lakes Chemical and Occidental Chemical's Laurel Industries unit will combine their antimony businesses into a 50-50 joint venture, managed by Great Lakes, for antimony-based flame retardants, synergists, and catalysts. Manufacturing will be consolidated at Great Lakes' facility in Reynosa, Mexico. Laurel will close its LaPorte, Texas, plant, which employs 14, by the end of 2004. Great Lakes CEO Mark P. Bulriss says the combination will have the size and resources to compete against Chinese imports.

OM delays results ...

OM Group anticipates restatement of its financial results from 1999 through 2003--the result of an independent investigation of inventories conducted by the audit committee of its board of directors. Earlier this year, OM delayed the required Securities & Exchange Commission filing of its 10-K statement of 2003 results because it was in the process of responding to SEC staff comments relating to previous filings. Thus, with the latest development, OM's 2003 results still have not been published. The company says it expects that its own investigation will result in adjustments that negatively affect earnings in 1999, 2000, and 2001 and positively affect them in 2002 and 2003.

... Bristol-Myers restates them

Bristol-Myers Squibb has restated 2003 results, plus its financial reports for 2001 and 2002. The change comes because the company, in its fourth-quarter and full-year 2003 earnings statement, recorded various charges and adjustments to correct accounting errors in prior periods. The restatement shifts those adjustments to the accounting periods in which they occurred. The restatement shows Bristol-Myers had fourth-quarter 2003 net earnings of $506 million on sales of $5.67 billion, compared with previously reported net earnings of $429 million on sales of $5.57 billion. For the full year, the company had net earnings of $3.11 billion on sales of $20.9 billion, compared with previously reported earnings of $2.95 billion and $20.7 billion in sales.

Output rises in February

U.S. chemical production increased in February for the first time since November 2003, according to the latest seasonally adjusted data from the Federal Reserve Board. Output of chemicals rose 1.2% from January and 3.7% from February 2003 to an index of 109.2 (1997 = 100). Basic chemical production increased just 0.4% from the January index to 95.2, and it was up 1.2% from February a year ago. The government's estimate of seasonally adjusted chemical capacity utilization climbed to 75.2% from 74.4% in the previous month and 73.3% in February 2003.


InnoCentive has struck a deal with India's National Chemical Laboratory, enabling NCL researchers to work on scientific challenges posted on the InnoCentive website. InnoCentive already had an arrangement with the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, NCL's parent organization.

Petrobras CEO José Eduardo Dutra reiterated his desire to buy petrochemical assets in Brazil, according to a published report. Possible targets are said to include Braskem, the country's largest private chemical company; ethylene producer Copesul; and Ipiranga Petroquímica, which Petrobras was rumored to be in discussions with last year.

Rütgers Chemicals and Nihon Jyoryu Kogyo have opened a joint-venture plant in Castrop-Rauxel, Germany, for the production of anthracene and carbazole, raw materials for pigment production. The plant uses a new process that the partners say reduces production costs by 50%.

Air Liquide's proposed acquisition of Messer Griesheim's industrial gas business in Germany, the U.K., and the U.S. has been approved by the European Commission. The deal still requires antitrust clearance in the U.S.

Novo Nordisk has licensed North American rights to ZymoGenetics' patents covering interleukin-20, a new member of the cytokine family that is being developed as a psoriasis treatment. Novo will pay ZymoGenetics a $4 million license fee, along with milestone and royalty payments.

Degussa is selling its $6 million-per-year thiourea dioxide business to Wego Chemical & Mineral Corp. Degussa will end production in Weissenstein, Austria, by midyear; Wego will transfer production to its site in Qingzhou, China.


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