Merck Makes a Deal as Dow Jones Drops on GDP Revisions

It's not putting a damper on deals as Merck sold its consumer health business for $14 billion.

May 6, 2014 at 1:34PM

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) is down after multiple economists revised their Q1 GDP growth estimates downward to negative following some weaker-than-expected economic releases. As of 1:20 p.m. EDT the Dow was down 83 points to 16,445. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) was down nine points to 1,876.

Just last week, analysts were expecting U.S. GDP growth of 1.1%. The Commerce Department surprised investors when in its first estimate of U.S. GDP said the economy only grew 0.1% in the first quarter. Now, multiple analysts expect that the U.S. economy shrank in the first quarter. Goldman Sachs cut its Q1 GDP forecast to -0.6% from -0.3%, and JPMorgan Chase cut its forecast to -0.8% from -0.4%. The reason is yesterday's trade deficit report, which showed that imports grew far more than many analysts had expected. Yet investors are still generally optimistic about the economy going forward and believe the bad Q1 was the result of the harsh winter.

The lowered forecast isn't putting a damper on big deals, however. This morning Merck (NYSE:MRK) announced it is selling its consumer health business to Bayer for $14.2 billion. Merck's consumer health business includes well-known brands such as Coppertone sunscreen, Claritin, Dr. Scholl's, and Lotrimin. The company announced it will use half the cash to buy back shares and then invest the rest in "those areas within its business that represent the highest potential growth opportunities, such as MK-3475, to augment the company's pipeline with external assets that can create value and to continue to provide an industry-leading return of capital to shareholders."

However, Merck stock is leading the Dow Jones downward today, as CEO Ken Frazier suggested that the company will not sell its animal health unit. In an interview with Forbes, Frazier said:

We're looking at strategic options for our animal health business, but my current point of view is that the business has scale it has strong growth prospects it's got a favorable macroeconomic outlook and a strong pipeline. So I would be looking for opportunities to build onto that business.

Merck has been refocusing itself around cancer drugs, cholesterol drugs, diabetes drugs, and vaccines, and as such it was reviewing its consumer health and animal health businesses for expansions or sales. Investors were hoping for a sale -- possible strategic acquirers include Sanofi or Eli Lilly -- or a spinoff, as Pfizer did last year with its animal health business Zoetis.

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Dan Dzombak can be found on Twitter @DanDzombak or on his Facebook page, DanDzombak. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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