Novartis also announced that it will initiate a share buyback of up to USD 5 billion to be executed by the end of 20191. This action is planned to be largely funded through the proceeds of the divestment to GSK of the consumer health joint venture stake, net of the AveXis acquisition payments.
Joerg Reinhardt, chairman of Novartis, said, "Our strategic review examined all options for Alcon ranging from retention, sale, IPO to spinoff. The review concluded that a spinoff would be in the best interests of Novartis shareholders and the Board of Directors intends to seek shareholder approval for a spinoff at the 2019 AGM. This transaction would allow our shareholders to benefit from potential future successes of a more focused Novartis and a standalone Alcon, which would become a publicly traded global medtech leader based here in Switzerland."
When Novartis acquired Alcon in 2011, the business included surgical, vision care and ophthalmic pharmaceuticals. In January 2016, Novartis began the process of creating two best-in-class businesses with the transfer of Alcon's ophthalmic pharmaceuticals to the Novartis Innovative Medicines Division. The leading ophthalmology pharmaceuticals business will continue to develop as part of Novartis, with 2017 sales of USD 4.6 billion and the potential blockbuster medicine RTH258 (brolucizumab) in development for neovascular AMD and diabetic macular edema. The Alcon Division is now fully focused on surgical and vision care, and continues to be the global leader in eye care devices.
Vas Narasimhan M.D., CEO of Novartis, said, "We continue to execute our strategy to focus Novartis as a leading medicines company. Alcon has returned to a position of strength and it is time to give the business more flexibility to pursue its own growth strategy as the world's leading eye care devices company. We will work to ensure a smooth transition for Alcon and Novartis associates while preparing for the launch of RTH258 and building our leading ophthalmology pharmaceuticals business."
Commenting on the share buyback, Dr. Narasimhan said, "The share buyback is fully aligned with our strategic capital allocation priorities, reflects our strict financial discipline and our confidence in future top line growth and margin expansion."
Mike Ball will become Chairman-designate of Alcon, effective July 1, 2018, reporting to Vas Narasimhan, CEO of Novartis. Ball will focus on preparing Alcon for the intended spin. In addition, he will start the process of recruiting a Board of Directors (BoD) for Alcon and meeting Novartis shareholders, and other potential investors, in preparation for a potential spinoff. If Alcon becomes an independent company, Ball would become Chairman of the Alcon BoD. In order to focus fully on the Alcon separation, Ball will step down from the Executive Committee of Novartis (ECN) on July 1, 2018.
David Endicott, chief operating officer (COO) of Alcon since July 2016, will be promoted to CEO of Alcon, also effective July 1, 2018. In light of the potential spinoff, Endicott will not become a member of the ECN. He will also report to Vas Narasimhan until the potential spinoff. Over the coming weeks, Ball will hand over operational management responsibilities to Endicott.
Endicott is a highly experienced leader in medical devices and pharmaceuticals having also previously held senior leadership positions with Allergan and Hospira. As Alcon COO, he played an integral role in the turnaround of the business.
Mike Ball, CEO of Alcon, said, "This promises to be the beginning of an exciting new chapter for everyone associated with Alcon. The planned spinoff will be key to strengthening our leadership in the large, attractive and growing global eye care devices market. As Chairman-designate, I look forward to working closely with David Endicott and the entire team at Alcon to deliver continued innovation for our customers and patients, while creating shareholder value through long-term, sustainable growth."
If the Alcon spinoff is completed, it would create a new Switzerland-based company with global scale and reach comprising more than 20,000 employees, with around USD 7 billion in 2017 sales. Fort Worth will continue to be a key location for Alcon.
Actions started earlier this year to make Alcon an operationally autonomous medical devices business will continue in preparation for a spinoff.
The successful completion of the planned spinoff is subject to general market conditions, regulatory approvals, final Board of Directors endorsement and shareholder approval. Required information and consultation of affected employees and employee representatives is planned for the second half of 2018. In the event that all approvals are secured, the planned spinoff is expected to be completed in the first half of 2019. The transaction is expected to be tax neutral to Novartis, subject to the receipt of favorable opinions and rulings. While a dividend policy for Alcon has not yet been set, Novartis intends to continue paying a strong and growing dividend in Swiss francs, building on the CHF2.80 per share paid in March 2018. The proposed distribution ratio will be disclosed in due course.
In addition to being incorporated in Switzerland, the intention would be to list shares of Alcon on the SIX Swiss Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange.
1 Current AGM authority (i.e. the 7th share repurchase program) will allow buyback of up to CHF 2.9bn, consequently a new framework program would be proposed to shareholders at the 2019 AGM/