PHARMA : Big investor unloads some AstraZeneca shares

The Wallenberg family of Sweden own some 5% of Astra-Zeneca via their Investor AB fund.  Last week they sold some 30% of their holdings. As you’ll recall A-Z’s future performance and the performance of its new statin Crestor have been the subject of several posts on THCB. The Dow Jones story (can’t find link but it was on Feb 11) reported that

    Investor decided to reduce the holding in order to strengthen its finances, company spokesman Fredrik Lindgren said.

    "We have decided to reduce our leverage and strengthen our financial flexibility. We continue to believe strongly in AstraZeneca and the company is still our largest holding," Investor President Marcus Wallenberg said in a statement. With the sale, Investor’s holding in AstraZeneca falls to 3.75% of the voting rights and share capital. The stake amounted to 5% of the votes and shares at the end of December.

    Lindgren said Investor is constantly looking at its holdings and the risk profile of its portfolio. He declined to comment on widespread speculation the proceeds from the sale would be used to fund the acquisition of a larger stake in truck maker Scania AB (SCV-A.SK).

While the speculation concentrates on the Wallenbergs’ need for the money elsewhere, a new correspondent for THCB, PharmaWatcher, has some speculation about the motives for this sale. He writes:

    What is actually driving Investor to sell its stake in AstraZeneca?  If it truly seeks to "strengthen its finances," why is it selling AZ?  His suspicion is that someone at Investor AB/Wallenberg must be looking at:
    a) The stock run-up in ’03;
    b) The analysts’ downgrades during January;
    c) The sales decline in the US, both yr/yr and Q4/Q4;
    d) The questionable prospects going forward for 2 of the 4 alleged saviors, Nexium and Crestor (never mind Iressa) and;
    e) Perhaps someone at Investor/Wallenberg knows something about (anti-coagulant) Exanta, or at least may have caught wind of the views at the EMEA/French regulatory authorities.

This is of course all pure speculation.  But the stock trader in me thinks that  A-Z’s stock has had a pretty nice run over the last 18 months, and the prudent money might just be looking for safer waters right now.

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