Bausch & Lomb makes $600 million bid for Wesley Jessen specialty lens maker

Offer comes unsolicited after target company proposed deal with rival

March 24, 2000|By BRIDGE NEWS

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Bausch & Lomb Inc., the No. 1 contact lens maker, said yesterday that it made an unsolicited offer of $600 million in cash to acquire Wesley Jessen VisionCare Inc., a specialty lens manufacturer.

The offer comes three days after Wesley proposed buying Ocular Sciences Inc., one of Bausch's biggest rivals, for $413 million. That deal would create the second-largest soft contact lens maker in the world.

The offer by Rochester, N.Y.-based Bausch of $34 a share represents a premium of 37 percent over Wesley Jessen's closing price Wednesday.

Wesley Jessen shares climbed $8.5625, or 34.42 percent, to close at $39.75 yesterday on the Nasdaq Stock Market, while Bausch & Lomb shares slipped 87.5 cents to $55.50 on the New York Stock Exchange. Ocular Sciences shares dropped $1, or 5.8 percent, to $16.25.

In a letter to Wesley Jessen, based in Des Plaines, Ill., Bausch & Lomb chief executive William M. Carpenter said the company had been in talks with Wesley as recently as Feb. 28 and had been surprised to learn of its agreement with Ocular Sciences.

"Our offer is clearly superior and more beneficial to Wesley Jessen shareholders than the proposed no-premium merger between Wesley Jessen and Ocular Sciences," Carpenter said. "The acquisition will enhance our vision care business by adding the strongest cosmetic tinted contact lens franchise to what is already the industry's broadest portfolio of world-class contact lens products."

Wesley Jessen said it would respond to the Bausch offer "in an appropriate time frame," but added that it was "committed" to the planned merger with Ocular Sciences.

Bausch said it is prepared for the long haul if no agreement with the Wesley board is reached.

"We intend to complete this deal at a full and fair price to the Wesley Jessen shareholder, and we are considering all of our options, which includes a tender offer, so we are prepared to take this deal directly to the shareholders if we have to," said Carpenter.

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