Sweden fights back as Pfizer move on Astra threatens jobs

Fri May 16, 2014 8:46am EDT
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By Sven Nordenstam

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - The Swedish government launched a fightback on Friday against U.S. drugmaker Pfizer's (PFE.N: Quote) proposed takeover of AstraZeneca (AZN.L: Quote), which has half its roots and more than 5,000 staff in Sweden, highlighting the risks to jobs and science.

In an unusual move for the center-right government which favors an open economy, three ministers spoke out against the deal at a joint press conference, pointing to Pfizer's history of job cuts after previous acquisitions.

The three - Finance Minister Anders Borg, Enterprise Minister Annie Loof and Education Minister Jan Bjorklund - said AstraZeneca's shareholders should "seriously consider rejecting" Pfizer's plan.

"We are saying that there are risks in terms of Swedish research, the entire life science cluster, and also potentially jobs in Sweden," Borg said.

AstraZeneca, which was formed from an Anglo-Swedish merger 15 years ago, has rebuffed Pfizer's current offer but the U.S. group is widely expected to return with a sweetened bid. AstraZeneca's chief executive has not ruled out discussions at the right price.

Pfizer has given a five-year promise to have 20 percent of its research staff in Britain, where AstraZeneca has its headquarters, but it has not spelt out what this means in absolute numbers.

At the same time, the U.S. company has said that the overall research budget of a merged group would be lower than the sum of the two companies' individual research budgets.

The numbers suggest Sweden is right to be worried.   Continued...

The Pfizer logo is seen at their world headquarters in New York April 28, 2014. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly