Scientific instrument company executives at the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry & Applied Spectroscopy (Pittcon) last week in Orlando, Fla., said the business outlook is much more promising now than at this time last year during the depths of the recession.
Customer uncertainty that pervaded last year’s Pittcon has ebbed, observed John A. Roush, president of PerkinElmer’s environmental health business. “We are now seeing the beginning of a recovery,” he said. Still, to capture customers on the fence about buying instruments, firms are promoting what Bruker Corp., for instance, described as “affordable, rock-solid” equipment.
Many executives are disappointed that government stimulus spending hasn’t had as big an impact on their bottom lines as they’d originally hoped. But they anticipate stimulus dollars will continue to be spent on scientific instruments in 2010.
Waters Corp. received “limited” stimulus money last year, said Rohit Khanna, vice president of marketing, but he hopes for more this year. Isaac Ro, a senior analyst with the investment bank Leerink Swann, was at Pittcon and noted that “as a result of slower stimulus flow, pent-up demand exists in the system.”
Industry consolidation was very much on the minds of Pittcon attendees. Many were surprised to learn that the lab-consumables firm Millipore ended up agreeing to be acquired by Merck KGaA, and not by instrumentation giant Thermo Fisher Scientific, as some market watchers expected (see page 9).
Thermo CEO Marc N. Caspar offered a “no comment” when asked about the Merck purchase. However, he did say his firm intends to grow by expanding its product line and enlarging sales in Asia. And he noted recent acquisitions, among them the just-completed $145 million purchase of Ahura Scientific.
Another consolidator, Agilent Technologies, said it is still waiting for U.S. approval to complete its $1.5 billion acquisition of Varian. It has already secured European approval, which requires the sale of businesses from both firms. Mike McMullen, president of Agilent’s chemical analysis group, said the firm has already reached a deal to sell one of them—Agilent’s micro gas chromatography business—for an undisclosed price to Switzerland-based instrument maker Inficon.