Germany’s Altana yesterday said it is to buy specialty chemicals group Eckart for 630 million euros in cash, and boosted its full year forecast to mid-single digits, having previously predicted a flat 2005.

The acquisition of Eckart is expected to be earnings accretive from the second full year of business, with a transaction close scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2005. Eckart employs 1,850 people worldwide and reeled in sales of 302 million euros in 2004, with an operating profit of 65 million euros. It is, says Altana, “one of the most profitable specialty chemicals companies worldwide,” with an EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) of 21%.

Following the acquisition, Altana Chemie - the chemicals division of Altana – looks set to achieve pro forma sales of 1.2 billion euros and an EBITDA margin of around 20%, up from 854 million euros in 2004 and a 19% EBITDA margin. And, during the course of 2006, Altana plans to spin off its chemicals unit “as an independently operating and separately listed company.” Said Nikolaus Schweickart, President and Chief Executive of Altana: “With its global presence in attractive specialty markets, our chemicals division is now positioned in such a way that it will make sense to separate it as an independent and listed company.”

This restructuring will also have an impact on the firm’s pharmaceuticals business, which it plans to strengthen by ploughing more than 1 billion euros into the development of new products, and by pursuing acquisitions and alliances. And it has a strong foundation on which to build, having pulled in first half sales of 1.5 billion euros – up 5% - headed by the ulcer drug Protonix (pantoprazole), which reeled in 655 million euros (+ 8%). With jitters about Altana’s reliance on Protonix, investors are keenly watching the progress of the firm’s two investigational asthma drugs Daxas (roflumilast) and Alvesco (ciclesonide) – both of which have been touted by Altana as billion-dollar earners. However, Daxas has suffered after Pfizer withdrew its support for the product after delays in the regulatory process [[04/07/05a]].