IMS deal shows life, if not strength, in leveraged buyouts

(Recasts lead)

If a deal can’t get done with the backing of Canada’s pension fund and capitalism’s mightiest bank, then the leveraged buyout market would truly be dead.

So it is with limited fanfare that DealZone welcomes the buyout of IMS Health by Canada’s public pension plan and Goldman Sachs as a sign of the market’s return to health. Green shoots in the LBO patch are hardly growing all jack-and-the-beanstalk, but putting together $4 billion for the prescription drug sales data provider is not just ice on the moon either.

Excluding debt, the $22-a-share cash deal is the biggest leveraged buyout since Bristol-Myers Squibb sold its ConvaTec unit to Avista Capital and Nordic Capital just over a year ago for $4.1 billion, according to data from Thomson Reuters.

Financing markets and general optimism have improved from the nadir of the crisis, and debt, if you can find it, is hardly expensive, with core rates at zero. But $4 billion pales in comparison with strategic deals in the health space this year, such as Wyeth’s $68 billion union with Pfizer.

It is safe to say, though, that had the IMS deal foundered, it would have been a far worse signal for LBOs than its success means for the relative health of the business.

PE feeds on Bankruptcies

KENYABack in February, Apollo Management founder Leon Black said he expected no return to the leveraged buyout salad days for at least two years, and that his and other dens of private equity would have to make do on paltry meals of distressed debt until then.

That carrion diet is still the order of the day. Caroline Humer reports that Apollo plans to take ownership of most of Charter Communications through the cable company’s reorganization in bankruptcy court. Citing three sources familiar with the situation, she says Apollo, which has purchased Charter’s debt, plans to own the majority of its equity following the bankruptcy restructuring, which includes a preplanned reorganization of its debt and an equity rights offering.

Apollo’s move seems to be more evidence that what Black said in Germany earlier this year is settling into the permafrost of the great credit freeze. “The big public-to-privates are gone the way of the dodo,” he said.