Pfizer needs to ink a big deal, pronto. GSK or Actavis, maybe?

A couple of things happened this past week to set off new chatter about a Pfizer ($PFE) megadeal. First, GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) posted disappointing earnings and cut its full-year forecast, sending its stock into the dumpster--and its market cap tumbling. Then, Berenberg analysts issued an investor note extolling the potential virtues of a Pfizer-GlaxoSmithKline combo.

Let the speculation continue.

GlaxoSmithKline's market value tumbled to $118 billion or so, and Pfizer could have it for a cool $164 billion, Berenberg's analysts estimated. Not beyond the realm of possibility. "This is perhaps a stretch, but not totally unrealistic," they wrote.

And Kevin Kedra, an analyst at Gabelli & Co., tells Bloomberg the same thing, more or less. "If they're willing to go after AstraZeneca, they can obviously go after other sizable targets," Kedra said. "There's not much to limit Pfizer except finding a deal that makes sense."

A GSK buy would come with the tax advantages of the AstraZeneca ($AZN) deal that never made it off the ground. It would create a "genuinely world class" vaccines operation," Berenberg's Alistair Campbell said in the investor note, with Pfizer's big-selling Prevnar franchise joining GSK's slate of childhood and adult jabs. And it would cement Pfizer's spot at the top of the Big Pharma food chain--a spot it lost after its best-selling drug Lipitor went off patent. Buying GSK would come with all the political problems of an AstraZeneca takeover, however, a sticky situation Pfizer might not want to deal with.

Besides GSK--and AstraZeneca, of course--there's Actavis ($ACT), which is fresh off its own buyout of Forest Laboratories ($FRX). That deal--worth about $57 billion, Bloomberg says--would build up Pfizer's established products business, which folks believe to be the first potential break-off in the company's next round of sales or spinoffs. The branded drugs Actavis has acquired with its recent deals could easily join Pfizer's stable. And with its new domicile in Ireland, gained in its recent Warner Chilcott buyout, there's the payoff of a tax inversion.

Pfizer CEO Ian Read

Pfizer CEO Ian Read said on the Q2 earnings call that he's continuing to look at deals small and mega, though he wouldn't address the AstraZeneca prospect directly. But there's no doubt Pfizer needs a deal--probably a big one. As Bloomberg points out, without a buyout, Pfizer has little prospect for sales growth in the near term.

Basically, Pfizer is back where it has been so often before: in a spot where it has to pull off a major merger to grow. Most recently, that buy was Wyeth, a deal that some market-watchers--including McKinsey & Co. analysts--consider not-so-successful. Whether Pfizer ends up targeting AstraZeneca again, or moves on to a bigger target in GSK, the pressure is on.

- see the Bloomberg story

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