Sanofi chief plays the politician on Genzyme deal

It's tough for us to watch Sanofi-Aventis (NYSE: SNY) dance with a Genzyme (NASDAQ: GENZ) bid without thinking about politics. Just like presidents who are maneuvering for a favorable position, Sanofi CEO Chris Viehbacher (photo) is saying little in public--but just enough to keep the talk coming. He even issued the sort of "non-denial denial" politicians specialize in at today's earnings conference.

Meanwhile, in time-honored White House fashion, folks "close to the deal" are leaking plenty to the press. The latest is that Sanofi is readying a formal offer--a so-called "bear hug" letter that hints at a potential hostile bid--of up to $70 per share for Genzyme. But as sources tell the Wall Street Journal, an offer pleasing to Genzyme's board would approach $75 instead.

And in an example of Viehbacher's tap dance on the subject, he almost simultaneously quashed suggestions that he'd overbid--"We are under no pressure to do a deal," he tells Reuters, specifically using the word "disciplined"--and hinted that he might pay plenty for the right acquisition. He could even surpass his new $20 billion upper limit on an acceptable deal, "We are obviously opportunistic, the group has the financial muscle," he says.

Likewise, in an interview with the Financial Times, Viehbacher emphasizes that one of his top three priorities is external growth, saying he likes "opportunities" that aren't too big to be easily integrated. And he tantalizingly adds "The core issue is not the price but what we can add."

- read the Reuters news
- see the coverage in the Wall Street Journal
- check out the Financial Times story