January 12, 2009
Abbott Labs (NYSE: ABT ) obviously saw something in Advanced Medical Optics (NYSE: EYE ) that investors didn't see. Today Abbott announced it's buying the eye-care specialist for $22 per share -- nearly 150% higher than Friday's close.
Much like Johnson & Johnson's (NYSE: JNJ ) purchase of breast-implant maker Mentor (NYSE: MNT ) last month, the high premium has to do with the long-term prospects of the company -- something that short-sighted investors often have a hard time seeing. Advanced Medical Optics makes equipment for laser vision correction (LASIK), and, with the economy in a precarious position, consumers aren't exactly interested in shelling out big bucks to be able to shed their glasses.
But, Johnson & Johnson and Abbott can afford to wait for discretionary spending on boob jobs and LASIK to rebound in the years ahead. In the mean time, Abbott also obtains Advance Medical Optics' cataract surgery and contact lens care products, which should be more recession-proof. Even after taking on Advanced Medical Optics' $1.5 billion in debt, Abbott still thinks the acquisition will be neutral to this year's earnings and start contributing to earnings next year.
With Advanced Medical Optics out of the way, the big question is who's next? It seems to me that the cosmetic laser companies are ripe for the picking. Syneron Medical (Nasdaq: ELOS ) and Cutera (Nasdaq: CUTR ) are trading for less than the cash-plus-investments they had on their books at the end of the last reported quarter, and Palomar Medical (Nasdaq: PMTI ) is almost that cheap. Sure, 2009 isn't going to be pleasant for the industry, but a company that can afford to wait out the downturn and perhaps save some money on synergies could afford to buy these companies at more than they're currently trading for.
Buying shares with the hope of the company getting acquired is rarely a good move, but investors that can follow the same long-term thinking that Abbott and J&J do should be rewarded as they buy at these bargain-basement prices. Eventually.