New Novartis chair Reinhardt embarks on strategic review. Are divestments next?

Novartis chairman Joerg Reinhardt

Former Chairman Daniel Vasella has said goodbye to his office at Novartis ($NVS). Joerg Reinhardt has been moving in. As he unpacks his things, he might, say, rearrange the furniture. Or maybe he'll sell off a division or two. Buy a $10 billion company, perhaps?

In an interview with Bloomberg, Reinhardt said Novartis will begin a strategic review of its businesses next week. Units that aren't up to the task could be divested. Though Novartis won't become a pure-play pharma, he said, "I believe active portfolio management is part of the strategic management of the company."

Reinhardt's guiding principle, apparently, is go big or go home. Novartis wants its businesses to be major players in their various fields. If not, he tells Bloomberg, then the company should consider divesting them.

It's a pledge sure to ignite speculation among breakup-happy investors, whose appetites for sales, spin-offs and the like were whetted by Pfizer's ($PFE) successful divestments and Abbott Laboratories' ($ABT) hive-off of AbbVie ($ABBV). Immediately on the table--to their minds--is big change for the struggling vaccines business, which Novartis created out of its Chiron acquisition in 2006. They figure it could be folded into the larger pharma unit, sold, or otherwise revamped. To those people, Reinhardt said Novartis is crunching some numbers on combining vaccines with drugs, but it's "too early to quantify" what the company would gain from it, cost-savings or otherwise.

Then there's the company's consumer health unit, which comprises animal health and over-the-counter drugs. What to do with it? Alcon, the eye care company that was Vasella's career-capping acquisition?  The one-third voting stake in crosstown rival Roche ($RHHBY)?

These are questions Joe Jimenez faced in January after Reinhardt was named as Vasella's successor--and on the heels of AbbVie's spin-off. He dismissed the idea of selling off a unit or two, saying all of the company's businesses were well-fixed to grow. Since then, however, the vaccines business has become more troublesome, and other big drugmakers have put assets up for sale. Pfizer has said it would divide its internal operations into three business units, each with its own management and financial reporting, fueling talk of a big breakup; GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) has said it would gather its older brands into a new established products unit and opened up bidding for two big drink brands.

Plus, Jimenez now has a new boss, who happens to be the former Novartis COO he beat out for the CEO chair. While Reinhardt, being human, will want to put his own stamp on the company, he emphasized in the Bloomberg interview that he's not in a rush to make big moves. In animal health, for instance, Novartis will spend the next few years looking for ways to expand, perhaps by partnering up with another company--and if that fails, Novartis will get out of the business. As for OTC drugs, "Novartis is not among the top players and it will be necessary to strengthen that business going forward, if we decide to stay in it."

Meanwhile, Novartis will still be scouting for deals, be they small or not so much. "Novartis would be willing to invest significant money for a very good opportunity. I don't think a $10 billion acquisition is out of reach," Reinhardt said.

- see the Bloomberg interview

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