Pfizer Inc might sell or spin off its animal health and nutrition units -- businesses valued at more than $16 billion -- to focus on its main pharmaceutical business and cushion the loss of its top-selling Lipitor cholesterol drug.
The drugmaker, the world's biggest, also said Thursday it will hold on to its established-products unit, which sells generic drugs, and its consumer healthcare business, bringing resolution to a review of its portfolio under Chief Executive Ian Read, a company veteran who took the helm in December.
Pfizer shares were down 1.9 percent in afternoon trading. They had risen some 19 percent this year, partly due to expectations of asset sales. Some investors were disappointed the company did not announce plans to sell off even more divisions, Morningstar analyst Damien Conover said.
``People wanted the established products and consumer groups to be included,'' Conover said.
Animal health and nutrition, which accounted for about 8 percent of the company's 2010 revenue, are ``distinct enough from our core businesses that their value may be best maximized outside the company,'' Read said in a statement.
The drugmaker also has been looking to cut costs to counter huge pressure on its revenue when it loses U.S. exclusivity for Lipitor in November.
Les Funtleyder, a portfolio manager with Miller Tabak who holds Pfizer shares, said it is possible the company will use the money to buy back stock, although ultimately it needs to develop new drugs.
``If you don't do it right you're just throwing money out the door,'' Funtleyder said of research and development spending. ``In a perfect world they would take the money and put it into developing new drugs.''
Pfizer has struggled to bring significant new products to market from its own research efforts. But earlier this year, it said it would slash as much as $2 billion from its 2012 research budget to help it meet profit goals.
In an interview with Reuters earlier this week, former Pfizer research chief John LaMattina said the drugmaker would be spending a low percentage of its revenue on R&D.
Even without the animal health and nutritionals businesses, Pfizer would be on track to spend at most 12 percent of revenue on research -- below the historical 15 percent to 20 percent cited by LaMattina for the industry.
SPIN-OFF OR SALE FOR ANIMAL HEALTH?
While some investors are eager to see Pfizer slim down, exiting animal health means leaving behind a business that rival drugmakers are turning to as a driver of future profits.
Pfizer's animal health business develops products for livestock and pets, and operates in more than 60 countries. It posted revenue of about $3.6 billion last year, making it one of the world's largest in the field. Analysts put the value of the business at $10 billion to $16 billion.
Analysts said Pfizer might encounter antitrust problems should it seek to sell the animal health unit to some rivals. Merck & Co Inc and Sanofi SA earlier this year abandoned plans for an animal health joint venture with $5 billion in annual sales because of antitrust issues.
Conover said Eli Lilly & Co -- which won European approval Thursday to buy Johnson & Johnson's animal health unit -- and Novartis AG could be buyers of the Pfizer business, saying they were examples of ``tier two players who may want to become tier one players.''
Sanford Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson said he would expect Pfizer to spin off the animal health business in a tax-free transaction, similar to what Bristol-Myers Squibb Co did with its Mead Johnson Nutrition Co business.
Pfizer's nutrition business, which sells formula and other nutritional products for infants and children up to 7 years old, generated revenue of about $1.9 billion last year. Analysts put the value of the nutritionals unit at $6 billion to $7.5 billion.
Potential buyers could include Mead Johnson, Abbott Laboratories, Danone SAand Nestle, Conover said.
Pfizer said it expects to complete any transactions in 12 months to 24 months and does not expect to make any further announcements about the businesses until next year.
In explaining its decision to keep the established products business, Pfizer said generic drugs and other off-patent medicines are crucial to growth in emerging markets.
The company said one important benefit of the consumer healthcare business is that it can extend the value of products by enabling Pfizer to market them when they switch from prescription to nonprescription medicines. (Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Derek Caney, Steve Orlofsky and Andre Grenon)