Molecular Devices Acquired

Last September I commented on Molecular Devices (Nasdaq: MDCC  ) , a maker of laboratory instrumentation for biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and academic research laboratories. The company had just lowered forward sales and earnings guidance, sending the share price to a 52-week low. I speculated that the sell-off might make Molecular Devices an attractive takeover candidate.

And, well, you know what they say about stopped clocks and biotech stock commentators -- we're both bound to be right sometime. Yesterday Molecular Devices agreed to be acquired by Toronto-based MDS (NYSE: MDZ  ) for $615 million in cash. The purchase price amounts to $35.50 a share, a 48.6% increase over last Friday's closing price of $23.88. The acquisition of Molecular Devices' portfolio of laboratory instrumentation should bolster MDS' Sciex business unit, currently a supplier of mass spectroscopy equipment, primarily to the life sciences market. MDS also has divisions focused on contract research services supporting drug development, molecular imaging, and radio therapeutics.

Molecular Devices' shareholders should be pleased with the acquisition. In the last year, the company's management has struggled to effectively forecast the laboratory equipment market. The purchase price is at a generous premium to the current share price, but slightly below where the company was trading just last April. Plus, MDS picks up well-regarded product lines that serve a customer base they already provide with mass spectroscopy equipment.

MDS appears to be a company in transition. The last two years have seen a refocus of the company's business units into those supporting the life sciences industries. Last October it announced the sale of its diagnostic services business to Borealis Infrastructure Management for $1.3 billion. I like the life science support industry and believe that solid investment options can be found in this segment. And the MoneyTree Report (put out by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, a chronicle of venture capital activity) agrees with me; it shows continued strong investment in the biotechnology arena.

MDS is attractive as an investment, but I'll keep the company on my watch list for now, as it may not yet be finished with the reorganization of the business units. Successful integration of companies like Molecular Devices and improvement of operating margins in the pharmaceutical contract research business unit should reward shareholders well.

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Fool contributor Ralph Casale, known on the Motley Fool discussion boards as HelicalZz, is a biochemist by trade and holds no financial position in any of the firms mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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