* Cuts quarterly dividend by 76 pct
* To buy U.S. rights to Wellbutrin XL from Glaxo
* EPS $0.25 vs $0.35
* Shares drop 15 pct
(In U.S. dollars. Adds company and analyst comments)
By Scott Anderson
TORONTO, May 6 (Reuters) - Biovail Corp BVF.TO slashed its dividend by 76 percent on Wednesday and said it plans to spend $510 million to buy the U.S. rights to antidepressant Wellbutrin XL, sending its shares down about 15 percent.
The country’s biggest publicly traded drugmaker said it plans to pay shareholders a quarterly dividend of 9 cents a share beginning in July, just a fraction of the dividend of 37.5 cents it last paid shareholders earlier this year.
Biovail said it needed to redirect the money to boost its acquisition warchest to fund the development of its new strategy to focus on treatments for central nervous system disorders.
The company estimates the change in dividend policy as well as the Wellbutrin deal with development partner GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) will give it an additional $480 million to pursue the growth strategy.
Wellbutrin XL was originally developed by Biovail and has been distributed by Glaxo in the United States since 2003.
“This is all about making sure that we have enough resources to accelerate our strategy. We are seeing so many opportunities out there that we want to have the incremental cash to go after those,” Bill Wells, Biovail chief executive told Reuters.
“The large number of opportunities that we are seeing means that a better use of those funds is to invest in those opportunities and get higher returns for shareholders.”
Shareholders disagreed, however, sending the shares down 12.7 percent to C$11.70. Earlier in the session, the shares touched a low of C$10.90.
RBC Capital Markets analyst Doug Miehm said the stock action was a “knee-jerk reaction” to the dividend cut as well as disappointment over the size of the Wellbutrin deal.
“While likely to generate significant free cash flow and strong returns, the market was likely expecting a different CNS acquisition of this size,” Miehm said in a note to clients.
“Biovail had telegraphed for some time that if a large acquisition was made, the dividend would be cut. As a result, the news should not come as a surprise.”
Last year the company announced plans to narrow the number of treatments it offers, and to spend $600 million through 2012 on research and development of new treatments for central nervous system (CNS) disorders.
Since then it has made a number of acquisitions of companies and products in the CNS field, including a co-development and commercialization deal earlier this week with Acadia Pharmaceuticals Inc (ACAD.O) and its experimental Parkinson’s disease psychosis drug.
Wells said two medium-sized acquisitions are also expected shortly.
The strategy shift prompted founder Eugene Melnyk to launch a proxy battle that ended last August when shareholders approved the company’s incumbent slate of directors rather than an alternative slate proposed by Melnyk.
Melnyk revisited that fight earlier this year when he requested a special meeting of shareholders to vote on his two board nominees and on corporate governance changes.
Analysts estimate that Melnyk stands to lose about $20 million as a result of the dividend cut.
The company also said on Wednesday it earned $39 million, or 25 cents a share for the quarter, down from $56.4 million, or 35 cents, for the same time last year.
Revenue fell 16.9 percent to $173.3 million.
Analysts were expecting an average of earnings per share of 29 cents before items and revenue of $171.6 million, according to Reuters Estimates.
Biovail also said it plans to close an Ontario-based research facility and cut 50 jobs and increased its cost reduction target to a range between $40 million and $60 million annually beginning in 2010.
Total write-offs and restructuring charges are expected in the range of $100 million and $120 million, up from the previous estimate of between $80 million and $100 million. ($1=$1.18 Canadian) (Reporting by Scott Anderson; Editing by Frank McGurty)