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"You'll take it and you'll like it!"
That seems to be the attitude Roche (OTC: RHHBY) is taking by reiterating an offer that's already lowballing Illumina (Nasdaq: ILMN ) by about $7 per share. This bullying stance hasn't gone over too well with Illumina's management and its shareholders, as might be expected. Many analysts, including the Fool's own Brian Orelli, expect Roche to bump up its $44.50 bid, as it's been forced to do multiple times in past acquisitions. There's no telling how long the battle will drag on, but keeping the offer as it stands can't sit well with Illumina, which has called Roche's bid "grossly inadequate" and "blatantly opportunistic."
"Pretty insulting" might be next on the list of retorts. Granted, no serious shareholder would want to give up $7 per share. Where will the offer have to go to make this a worthwhile deal for both parties -- and will any result be enough to maintain Illumina's current technology edge in an industry where innovation seems to happen every week?
Blood in the water
At an 83 P/E, Illumina is right back to where it was a year ago, at a terrifically optimistic level far beyond rival Life Technologies' (Nasdaq: LIFE ) 22 P/E. Going forward, Illumina shareholders are clearly expecting explosive growth, and I can't blame them -- the potential for everyday genome sequencing is huge. The machines-and-reagents model both Illumina and Life Tech are pursuing could make today's earnings look like small potatoes when millions (or even billions) of sequences are run yearly.
At the same time, Illumina's current leadership position is under siege, both by Life Tech's recently unveiled cheaper machine and by other unexpected competitors like Oxford Nanopore, whose handheld sequencer generated tremendous buzz when demonstrated earlier in February. Pacific Biosciences (Nasdaq: PACB ) also has a horse in this race, but it's going to have to really blow the doors off the competition with its next-gen sequencer to make inroads. The cost of sequencing is dropping so rapidly that it's sped right past Moore's Law, so there's no guarantee of market dominance in the future.
Illumina has some key partnerships, including one with maternity-test specialist Sequenom (Nasdaq: SQNM ) , that could keep it ahead of the pack. There's no reason that Sequenom can't also cooperate with Life Tech, Pac Bio, or Oxford Nanopore should their machines turn out to be more cost-effective. The presence of a "killer app" may not be as critical to doctors and researchers as high speed and precision at the lowest cost. Switching sequencers would set back progress, but if a competitor undercuts Illumina on cost without sacrificing accuracy, it makes more sense to adopt that platform.
Foolish final thoughts
Illumina's current market cap is (relatively) small potatoes for a behemoth that's gobbled up Genentech for $46.8 billion, but that business model was arguably more established and its future better understood than Illumina's. Illumina's development hasn't relied on the deep pockets of bigger benefactors so far, but competition is always around the corner. What price justifies losing out on the potential for huge growth, if it means eliminating the possibility of huge losses should Illumina eventually stumble and lose the race?
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