BlackRock Urges AstraZeneca To Hold New Talks
AstraZeneca's biggest shareholder wants the pharmaceuticals group to consider renewing talks with Pfizer about a £69bn takeover offer once a curfew period imposed by City regulators has expired.
Sky News has learnt that fund managers at BlackRock, which owns approximately 8% of AstraZeneca, have told its directors that they should re-engage with Pfizer, potentially after a three-month hiatus that is likely to come into force next week under UK takeover rules.
BlackRock, the world's biggest asset management group, is understood to have also told AstraZeneca that it agrees with its decision not to recommend a £55-a-share final offer lodged by the American drugs giant on Sunday night.
News of the firm's views comes just four days before a cut-off point for Pfizer to lodge a formal bid for AstraZeneca or walk away for six months.
BlackRock's intervention is significant, partly because it is AstraZeneca's largest shareholder but also because it is a substantial Pfizer shareholder, implying that it views a merger as possessing industrial logic.
BlackRock and AstraZeneca both declined to comment on their discussions.
AstraZeneca investors are divided about its directors' handling of Pfizer's £55-a-share proposal.
Earlier this week, Schroders, which owns 2% of the UK company, issued a statement criticising the actions of both companies:
"Schroders notes with disappointment the quick rejection by the AstraZeneca Board of the latest offer from Pfizer and the decision of the Pfizer Board to draw a premature end to these negotiations by calling their latest proposal final.
"As long term shareholders, we are strong believers in AstraZeneca and the potential for its innovative growth pipeline; however, given the increase in the offer we would encourage the AstraZeneca management to recommence their engagement with Pfizer, and subsequently their shareholders."
Legal & General Investment Management is also reported to have written to AstraZeneca to demand that it reconsider its rejection of the £69bn takeover proposal, a view echoed by fund managers at Axa Investment Managers.
Collectively, investors speaking for approximately 16% of AstraZeneca are understood to have urged it to engage in further talks with Pfizer, when BlackRock's holding is included.
However, a number of other large shareholders have backed the rejection of Pfizer's offer and endorsed AstraZeneca's view that its prospects are stronger as a standalone business.
Institutions supporting the UK-based company have included Fidelity Investments, Investor AB, the Swedish group which owns approximately 4%, M&G Investments and Threadneedle Investments.
Even with BlackRock's support, it appears unlikely that AstraZeneca's board will reverse its decision not to hold further talks prior to Monday's deadline.
Under Takeover Panel rules, Pfizer would be prohibited from making a further offer for AstraZeneca for six months if it abandons its interest. It has said it will not make a hostile bid by going directly to AstraZeneca's shareholders.
However, the British group could approach Pfizer to enter talks in three months' time, an approach that BlackRock and others now appear to be endorsing.
Pfizer's interest in AstraZeneca has sparked a row in Westminster about the US company's track record in research and development.
Labour has signalled that it could seek to block a deal if it wins power, and if a takeover had not been completed by the time of the next general election.