Roche to Approach Acquisitions With Care, Chairman Says

Roche Holding AG’s new chairman signaled today he’ll follow his predecessor’s tight-fisted approach toward acquisitions even now that the drugmaker has paid down much of the debt from its last big deal.

Roche has been willing in the past to abandon planned purchases over price, and the company will review opportunities very carefully, said Christoph Franz, who was elected chairman today at the drugmaker’s annual meeting in Basel, Switzerland.

“Often the best business decisions are the ones you don’t make,” Franz said at a news conference after the meeting.

Franz’s comments hew to the strategy his predecessor Franz Humer and Chief Executive Officer Severin Schwan have followed. Schwan said in January that what the Basel-based drugmaker does with its cash will depend on acquisition opportunities.

The ratio of Roche’s net debt to assets fell to 11 percent at the end of last year, the first time it’s been in the company’s zero to 15 percent target range since buying the rest of California biotechnology company Genentech in 2009 for $46.8 billion. Two-thirds of the debt from that deal has been repaid.

Roche abandoned a $6.7 billion hostile bid for gene-sequencing company Illumina Inc. in 2012 after shareholders held out for more money. Roche approached U.S. biotechnology company Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc. informally last summer, an advance that was rebuffed, a person familiar with the matter said at the time. Alexion’s market value has soared to more than $34 billion now from about $20 billion before the approach.

Franz is chief executive officer of Deutsche Lufthansa AG, where his contract runs through May 31. He will remain with the carrier through the annual meeting on April 29, and will leave in May before his contract expires, a spokesman said today. Lufthansa executive Carsten Spohr becomes CEO on May 1.

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