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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 February, 2004, 07:18 GMT
Aventis profits lead bid defence
Aventis employee wearing a mask to guard against the
Aventis' staff are worried about the "takeover virus"
Franco-German drug firm Aventis has reported soaring profits, which it says show a rival's bid to be worthless.

The firm said net profits rose 17.5% in 2003 to 2.44bn euros ($3.1bn; 1.7bn), although sales fell 4.5% in the face of the weakening dollar.

Aventis will detail how it plans to ward off the bid later on Thursday.

Sanofi's share-based hostile offer has fallen in value as its share price has slid, but the firm has said it sees no need to put more money on the table.

"Their hostile bid is a cheap attempt to transfer their risks to our shareholders," said Aventis chief executive Igor Landau.

"It is very clear: they need us, we don't need them."


Hostile takeover attempts are rare in continental Europe.

Sanofi-Synthelabo may have been encouraged in its late January offer - worth 47.8bn euros at the time but 46.8bn now - by signs of support from the French government for a "national champion" in the pharmaceutical market.

A combination of the two companies would generate the third biggest firm in the business, behind US giant Pfizer and the UK's Glaxo SmithKline.

Sanofi's pipeline, the drugs it has in development, is thought in some circles to be stronger than its counterpart, justifying a valuation which is about the same as Aventis' despite the latter having twice the sales.

And brokerage ING noted that only a year ago it was Aventis' Igor Landau who was suggesting a merger.

"It seems reasonable to ask why it would no longer make sense," the firm wrote.


But Aventis sees things differently, and is lining up for a stern defence.

Although sales growth in its top allergy drug Allegra slowed in 2003, it said newer products were performing strongly.

The details of its bid defence, which could include suing the French stock market regulator for allowing the bid or slowing things down while patent lawsuits involving both companies crawl through the courts, are set to be revealed later on Thursday.

The BBC's Jamie Robertson
"Aventis has been fine-tuning its defence strategy"

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