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Takeover fever spreads in healthcare industry

With $2 trillion in buyouts since January, 2015 has become the year of the mega-deal, fueled by free money in a zero-interest rate environment.

But with the Federal Reserve appearing increasingly keen on raising rates, that party may be coming to an end.

That is, unless you’re in healthcare.

Almost 1 in 4 dollars in takeovers this year involved a company in healthcare, and the size of those deals is immense.

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The total value of healthcare mergers and acquisitions in the United States has more than tripled compared with five years ago, according to the data firm Dealogic.

Even in the face of rising interest rates, which would make deal-making more expensive, business insiders see few reasons why momentum in the healthcare sector will ease any time soon.

There is too much to gain.

Drugmakers still need to buy drugs and companies that promise to give them a sizable competitive advantage and sell the ones that don’t as they narrow their focus. Health insurers, doctors and hospitals are pushing to get bigger and bring more muscle to their negotiations with one another over the ever-rising cost of care. The Blue Cross-Blue Shield insurer Anthem Inc. is spending $51.9 billion to buy rival insurer Cigna, a deal that would create a combined company with more than $100 billion in revenue.

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These deals also enable companies to combine resources and cut expenses at a time when every element of the sector is feeling pressure to control healthcare costs.

“Healthcare firms, in general, I believe will need to get bigger,” Morningstar analyst Vishnu Lekraj said.

New York’s Pfizer Inc. and Botox maker Allergan in Irvine are discussing a deal that could easily top $100 billion and create the world’s largest drugmaker based on revenue.

“If you’re an investment banker, the [pharmaceutical] industry is still a good space,” said Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

And then there’s the long game.

Aging baby boomers are using more care, and a growing number of people are gaining insurance from the federal healthcare overhaul, and they’re starting to return to the doctor’s office.

On Friday, shareholders of the healthcare company Perrigo Co. rejected a hostile takeover attempt by generic drugmaker Mylan, an unsolicited, $26-billion offer that Perrigo called “grossly inadequate.” Mylan quickly said it was ready to move on. Executive Chairman Robert J. Coury said in a statement that his company has already identified some new acquisition possibilities.

“As we have said all along,” he said. “Mylan viewed Perrigo as a unique and exciting opportunity, but not one that was required for the future success of our company.”

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