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Bergen Bids for 20% Stake in European Firm : Acquisition: The $89-million proposal is the Orange-based drug wholesaler's entrance into the international market.


ORANGE — Bergen Brunswig Corp., the nation's second-largest drug wholesaler, on Monday ventured into the international market, proposing an $89-million deal that would give it a 20% stake in Europe's largest pharmaceuticals distributor.

Bergen Brunswig and Cooperation Pharmaceutique Francaise, a Paris supplier of over-the-counter products, have offered $160 for each share of Office Commercial Pharmaceutique's shares. That would put the total value of the deal at $443 million.

Bergen Brunswig, based in Orange, would own 20% of a new joint venture that would include OCP. Cooperation would be the majority shareholder. Bergen Brunswig in later years could boost its stake to at least 34%. To finance the deal, Bergen Brunswig would use existing credit lines, said Neil F. Dimick, chief financial officer.

Bergen Brunswig and Cooperation face challenges, however. Earlier this year, Gehe AG, a German-owned company, bid $147 a share, or about $400 million, for OCP. Also, if Bergen Brunswig's offer is accepted, it still must be cleared by various regulatory agencies.

Dimick described the proposal as friendly, in large part because Bergen Brunswig and Cooperation are supported by OCP Chairman Pierre Bourely,whose family is OCP's largest shareholder.

Fast-growing Bergen Brunswig has completed a string of U.S. acquisitions in the past decade. Last year, for example, it completed a $470-million takeover of Alabama-based Durr-Fillauer Medical Inc.

One analyst expressed optimism Monday about the proposal, which is Bergen Brunswig's entrance into the international market. The company improved its likelihood of success in Europe by "taking a partner who knows what's going on in a different market," said Don Spindel, an analyst with the brokerage A.G. Edwards & Sons in St. Louis.

If completed, the deal would be the second international move in recent years by the nation's largest drug wholesalers.

In 1990, McKesson Corp. in San Francisco won approval from Canadian regulators to acquire an equity interest in Quebec's Medis Health and Pharmaceuticals Inc., Canada's largest pharmaceuticals distributor.

Dimick described the Bergen Brunswig proposal as further evidence "that this is increasingly a global business. . . . There's no debating the importance of the European Community financially, . . . and there are . . . similar drug distribution systems in place" on both continents, Dimick said.

OCP reported $6 billion in sales for its latest fiscal year.

Bergen Brunswig is about the same size, with $6 billion in annual revenue from wholesale distribution of pharmaceuticals and other health-care products.

In Monday's trading on the American Stock Exchange, Bergen Brunswig closed at $18.375 a share, down 25 cents.

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