Takeover rumours swirl around Smith & Nephew again

Hip and knee replacement maker Smith & Nephew was subject to takeover rumours yesterday as reports suggested a US rival was planning an £8bn bid for the firm.

The company, which has a division in Hull, refused to comment on speculation that medical device manufacturer Biomet was plotting a 900p a share approach.

Smith & Nephew saw its shares rally seven per cent, following a rise of four per cent the day before, amid rumours that Biomet, which is owned by private equity firms including Blackstone and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, is close to making an offer.

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Indiana-based Biomet will not be the first US firm to table an interest in Smith & Nephew this year after the company rejected a 750p a share, or £7bn, bid from pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson in January.

Biomet, which focuses on the orthopaedic market including joint replacement products, employs more than 6,700 staff across 16 manufacturing facilities worldwide.

The company distributes its products in 70 countries and has annual sales in excess of 2 billion US dollars (£1.2bn).

Smith & Nephew was close to buying Biomet in 2006 but it was outbid by its current group of private equity owners, who offered £6.8bn for the company.

The speculation raises the possibility of another major British company going to an overseas rival after last year’s sale of Cadbury to US firm Kraft Foods.

Last year new rules designed to make foreign takeovers of British companies more difficult were unveiled as part of a shake-up in regulations governing mergers and acquisitions after critics argued it was too easy for overseas firms to acquire British companies.

FTSE 100-listed Smith & Nephew, which employs around 10,000 staff worldwide, reportedly rejected Johnson & Johnson’s bid on the grounds it substantially undervalued the firm.

Johnson & Johnson, which has a medical devices division as well as owning well-known UK household brands, including Listerine, Sudafed and Benecol, took its cash elsewhere and bought Swiss trauma products group Synthes.

But there is further speculation that Johnson & Johnson has not given up on acquiring Smith & Nephew and could table another offer if Biomet reveals its intentions.