Merrill cleans house

July 17, 2008

Michael BloombergIt looks like Merrill Lynch has made up its mind regarding its house-cleaning priorities. The investment bank is expected to announce on Thursday that it will sell its 20 percent stake in Bloomberg LP back to the news and financial data company for about $4.5 billion, a source familiar with the matter said. No one on either side is talking, but selling the Bloomberg stake could help Merrill Chief Executive John Thain raise capital to make up for write-downs related in part to subprime mortgages. It is not immediately clear what role, if any, New York Mayor and Bloomberg founder Michael Bloomberg (pictured), who still owns about 70 percent of the company, has played in the Merrill transaction. Merrill also owns a substantial stake in money manager BlackRock Inc, but BlackRock, the largest publicly traded asset management company in the United States, said on Thursday that Merrill had decided against selling the stake. Merrill reports earnings later in the day.

Shares in Teva Pharmaceutical Industries fell nearly 1 percent on Thursday after reports it was in talks to buy rival Barr Phamaceuticals for up to $7.5 billion. TheMarker and Globes financial newspapers reported online overnight that Israel-based Teva, the world’s biggest maker of generic drugs, was in talks to buy New Jersey-based Barr in what would be a further consolidation of the generic drugs industry. TheMarker put the price tag at $7.5 billion, citing capital market sources. That would make it Teva’s biggest acquisition, surpassing the $7.4 billion purchase of Ivax two years ago. Globes cited a price of $7 billion to $7.5 billion. Barr has a market value of $5.1 billion.

And it’s starting to get ugly in Europe. Continental Chief Executive Manfred Wennemer withdrew from the public eye on Thursday to plot his defense against an unwanted $18 billion bid from family-owned Schaeffler Group. If Schaeffler succeeds in buying the group, which is three times its size, it would be the first time a German family business has taken over a company listed on the country’s blue-chip DAX index. But Schaeffler’s advances have stirred resentment at Continental’s headquarters in Hanover, sparking a war of words between both sides. On Wednesday, Continental’s Wennemer hit back at the offer, saying it was too low and warning that the predator could ultimately dismantle Continental. Schaeffler, owned by German billionaire Maria-Elisabeth Schaeffler, countered it had no such plans, labeling Wennemer’s tone “incomprehensible”.

More deals of the day:

** UK-based buyout firm Doughty Hanson said it agreed to buy a majority stake in TMF, a management and accounting outsourcing services business, for 750 million euros ($1.2 billion).

** Indonesia’s PT Bumi Resources has acquired a majority stake in Australian-listed Herald Resources Ltd after Herald’s board recommended Bumi’s improved A$563 million ($547 million) bid.

** Swiss insurer Zurich Financial Services said it would buy two Brazilian companies, paying up to $241 million and adding to a string of recent smaller acquisitions. Zurich said it would buy 87.35 percent of Companhia de Seguros Minas Brasil and 100 percent of Minas Brasil Seguradora Vida e Previdencia from Banco Mercantil do Brasil.

** Bank Hapoalim, one of Israel’s largest banks, said it had agreed to acquire 78 percent of Russian mid-sized SDM Bank for $111 million.

** Australian mining contractor Ausdrill Ltd has agreed to buy Taylor Wimpey Plc’s mining division in Ghana for $20 million, expanding its business in Africa, coveted by its suitor Macmahon Holdings Ltd.

** Daiichi Sankyo and Ranbaxy Laboratories said the Japanese drugmaker’s deal to take over the Indian firm was “binding and final”, but the statement failed to halt Ranbaxy shares slide.

** Chinese state-owned trading firm Sinosteel has lifted its stake in Australian iron ore explorer Midwest Corp to 54 percent, with its takeover offer due to close.

** Hudson’s Bay Co, the Canadian retailer whose name is synonymous with the country’s frontier past, was bought by the U.S.-based private equity fund that owns the Lord & Taylor department store chain, one of the oldest names in American retailing.

** Bilfinger Berger, Germany’s second largest builder, has bought U.S. industrial services specialist Tepsco from private investor Churchill Equity, it said.

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