Let Market Decide Bids' Fate, Woodford Urges
Politicians should leave the fate of corporate takeover bids to boards and shareholders, a leading City fund manager said on Monday as he backed AstraZeneca's rejection of Pfizer's £69.3bn offer.
Speaking to Sky News, Neil Woodford said he understood political concerns about the UK's science base and the impact on AstraZeneca's workforce if its US rival succeeded in buying it.
But he said it would be a mistake for Britain to follow France's more protectionist stance towards industrial takeovers.
"It is right that the market decides," said Mr Woodford.
"I share the concerns about critical infrastructure of the UK's science base and jobs, because I have been an investor in early-stage medical research businesses and know that the loss of key jobs can be damaging.
"Politicians should not be deciding these things. A free market in corporate control is appropriate, because boards and shareholders should decide the destiny of the ownership of companies."
Mr Woodford, who has just launched his own investment management venture and has attracted billions of pounds of client commitments, had supported AstraZeneca's earlier rejection of a string of takeover proposals from Pfizer.
He said the British company was also right to rebuff its larger rival's final offer of £55-a-share, although some other fund managers expressed disappointment at AstraZeneca's refusal to engage.
Mr Woodford said Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca chief executive, had turned around the company's fortunes since taking over two years ago.
"He and his team are the people who can get the most out of AstraZeneca's pipeline.
"He has worked a miracle in the last two years - its research and development function was blighted by risk-aversion and bureaucracy after a series of late-stage disappointments.
"It was crippling the organisation. With largely the same science base, he has taken what already existed and liberated it through astute management and boldness."
AstraZeneca directors spent the day talking to leading investors about the decision not to enter discussions with Pfizer over its latest offer.
On Monday, the UK company's shares fell more than 11% to £42.81, reflecting the City's belief that a takeover is now unlikely.