Worst-performing SA stock, Ascendis, receives bid for crown jewel

JOHANNESBURG — Looking at the 77% slump in Ascendis’ share price for 2018 on the JSE makes for eye-opening reading. The company is saddled with a headache-inducing debt pile that its new CEO is trying to deal with. One option here is selling off various assets, including its best-performing business unit, Remedica. The news has buoyed Ascendis’ share price this week. It will be interesting to see if the company shakes off its ‘worst-performer’ status by this time next year. – Gareth van Zyl

By Janice Kew

(Bloomberg) – Ascendis Health Ltd. is in talks to sell one of its best-performing units as last year’s biggest South African loser on Johannesburg’s stock exchange battles to ensure survival.

The debt-laden maker of multivitamins, probiotics and pet nutritional supplements received an unsolicited offer for Cyprian unit Remedica, sending the stock 13% higher on Monday, the biggest jump in more than 10 months. Still, the gain must be placed in the context of a 77% slump in 2018, giving a market capitalisation of R2.8bn.

The shares pared gains on Tuesday, trading 3.7% lower at R5.97 as of 9:45am in Johannesburg.

Remedica, which develops, manufactures and sells over 300 generic pharmaceuticals in more than 100 countries, was bought for more than €260m ($299m) in 2016, more than Ascendis’s current market capitalisation. The unit was one of two described as posting particularly strong revenue growth in Ascendis’s most recent earnings report, published in September.

The deal was part of a debt-fuelled acquisition spree led by former Chief Executive Officer Karsten Wellner, who had led the health company since it was founded in 2011. He was replaced just under a year ago by Thomas Thomsen, a former executive of global giants including Johnson & Johnson and Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc.

With total liabilities of more than R9bn, Thomsen started a review of its business in September, and is considering the disposal of non-core assets and units. An antiretroviral manufacturing plant in Isando, Johannesburg, was sold to Mylan Proprietary Ltd. in December.

Ascendis 2018 share slump has had implications for its largest shareholder, private-equity firm Coast2Coast Capital. Its Chief Executive Officer Gary Shayne, along with his spouse and associated companies, have been forced to sell or transfer more than R86m worth of Ascendis’ 2018 shares since November. Most of the disposals were triggered as the stock was used as collateral for loans.