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Biomet owners look to arrange $11B marriage

December 15, 2010

Warsaw-based orthopedics behemoth Biomet Inc. could get a whole lot bigger if rumors prove true that its owners have made a bid for United Kingdom-based rival Smith & Nephew plc.

Rumors hit the U.K. press last week that the consortium of private-equity funds that owns Biomet were making an $11.2 billion bid for Smith & Nephew. That’s the number Bloomberg News reported, crediting Britain’s Daily Mail, which cited “industry gossip.”

The combined companies would have $6.5 billion in annual revenue, up from Biomet’s current sales of $2.7 billion. Biomet now is the state's second-largest private company, according to IBJ data.

Smith & Nephew already thought joining forces with Biomet was a good idea back in 2006. But it was outbid by the Blackstone Group, Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts, both based in New York, and other private equity firms that were using the easy credit of the time to invest a minimum of cash and generate spectacular returns.

“Orthopaedics is a maturing industry where scale is critical and such a deal would, with the minimum of antitrust fuss, create a fourth big global company in the market for hip and knee replacements with substantial synergies,” wrote Financial Times reporter Lina Saigol.

The othopedics industry is led by Warsaw-based Zimmer Holdings Inc., which in 2003 outbid Smith & Nephew to acquire Switzerland-based Centerpulse Inc. Zimmer—Indiana's sixth-largest public company—is trailed closely by DePuy Orthopaedics Inc., the Warsaw- based unit of Johnson & Johnson, as well as Stryker Corp., which is based in Kalamazoo, Mich.

The problem, Saigol noted, is that Biomet’s owners still have a fair bit of their debt left to pay off—$6 billion of it, in fact.

“Raising enough cash to do a deal in this environment would be challenging, if not impossible,” Saigol wrote, suggesting instead a reverse merger financed by Smith & Nephew’s publicly traded shares. “The only issue left to be resolved would be who should lead the combined group.”

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