Lacking details, we read Sanofi's tea leaves

They like him. But do they really, really like him? Investors cheered Sanofi-Aventis CEO Chris Viehbacher's (photo) new strategic plans yesterday, giving the languishing stock an 8 percent boost to $30.56. Today, however, it's back down below $30 so far. And at least one analyst says he sees no reason to change his rating on the stock--now at "Hold"--because Viehbacher's plan was light on the details, the Associated Press reports.

Granted, said Citi Investment Research's Mark Dainty, Viehbacher has only been on the job for two months, so the fine print hasn't had time to be written yet. "At this stage, as we expected, it is only a high-level vision," he said in an investor note.

But Viehbacher and company did offer some additional info to yesterday's early reports. CFO Laurence Debroux has been promoted to the newly created position of chief strategic officer; a new CFO is on tap for appointment within a few weeks, Viehbacher said. Plus, Viehbacher has recruited ex-NIH chief Elias Zerhouni as a scientific adviser to R&D helmster Marc Cluzel; Zerhouni will help review the company's development programs.

Does that mean some internal programs face the ax? That's one detail we didn't get, though Viehbacher did hint that he intends to cut dependence on internal R&D in favor of bolt-on acquisitions and licensing deals. And speaking of cuts, so far Viehbacher hasn't fleshed out his "appropriate use of resources" comments, so the number of potential job cuts is still a mystery. (The company did specify how many sales reps have hit the exits, though: 2,700 from late 2005 to late 2008, including 1,800 in the U.S., the WSJ Health Blog reports.)

Nor do we have specifics on just which small-to-medium deals Viehbacher is entertaining. But speculation abounds; the Health Blog is engaging in a Biogen Idec thought experiment, for instance, though Viehbacher evaded comment when asked directly. Who do you like for Sanofi? Let us know.

- see the Wall Street Journal's update
- check out the story from the AP
- read the Health Blog post

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