Thursday, 10 April 2014

Wellcare Health Plans Inc said to be $4bn takeover target for US healthcare insurance giants

There is a bit of a buzz in European markets about a US company called Wellcare Health Plans Inc and I think I know why.

Wellcare Health Plans Inc - which provides Medicare and Medicaid managed care plans to its members in the US - has this year already been tipped as a takeover target by several leading Wall Street analysts, including scribblers round at Credit Suisse.

And these analysts might actually be onto something. According to some of my sources familiar with the matter, Wellpoint Inc - one of the largest US healthcare insurance companies - has been working with bankers from UBS to study the acquisition of Wellcare.

Wellpoint Inc's move to appoint UBS follows preliminary discussions between both companies' senior executives over a month ago, according to one of my sources, who believes Wellcare could eventually be bought for as much as $4bn. Wellcare's market capitalisation is currently $2.8bn.

Credit Suisse's note on Wellcare first came out in late February and suggested the company is likely to be bought by a rival because the business is in a "transition phase" as two: "key management positions are currently in flux (CEO was terminated in November 2013 and CFO announced his departure in February 2014)".

Ralph Giacobbe and Chris Carter, analysts at Credit Suisse, also said in their note: "the depressed earnings base may create an attractive entry point for an acquirer".

Ironically, these analysts suggested Wellpoint Inc was one of the least likely acquirers of Wellcare. Mr Giacobbe and Mr Carter argue Cigna, UnitedHealth and Humana are the companies that are more likely to be interested in buying Wellcare.

I asked representatives from both Wellpoint Inc and Wellcare for comment on the story.

Wellpoint declined to comment while Wellcare provided a rather long statement. I have pasted it below:

"It is not appropriate for us to speculate on industry consolidation activity, comment on market rumors, or react to another company’s view of WellCare.  WellCare’s board of directors and senior management team continue to view our company as well-positioned to capitalize on significant opportunities for prudent, profitable growth in the coming years. One indication of this is the meaningful investment we are making in 2014. We expect to increase our capital expenditures by as much as 50 percent compared with 2013. We also increased our operating expense plan for the year for incremental expenditures associated with information technology, care management, quality, and service and productivity improvements. Additionally, we continue to source strong, proven talent to build our company. The board and management team are fully engaged in ensuring WellCare continues to be a leader in government health care coverage."

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