Smiths Medical, the Plymouth-based maker of hospital infusion pumps and supplies, has long been a curious component of British industrial technology conglomerate Smiths Group.
But several attempts to sell off the Smiths medical division to buyers with a deeper focus on health care have failed over the years. So on Friday, executives with Smiths Group are set to announce their plans to formally separate the medical division from its conglomerate owner, one way or another, for the benefit of both businesses.
“Smiths Medical has long sat rather uncomfortably within what is predominantly an industrial company,” Stifel analyst Mark Davies Jones wrote to investors. Following the collapse of sales talks last year, “Smiths group management appear to have concluded that they can themselves address the structural anomaly of having a medical equipment and consumables business sitting with an industrial group.”
Smiths Group CEO Andy Reynolds Smith has said a major impetus to sell Smiths Medical is the rapidly changing market, which the medical division will be better-positioned to respond to as a separate entity. Asked for specifics last November by an analyst, Smith cited disruptions in how medical products are purchased and distributed, including the influence of “some out-of-field players starting to enter, like Amazon.”
The Wall Street Journal reported last year that Amazon is exploring the creation of a major new market for hospitals that could turn the online retailer into a nontraditional seller of outpatient, inpatient and emergency-room supplies.
Smiths Group, based in London, is set to hold its regular earnings call with investors on Friday, and a Smiths Medical spokesman confirmed that executives are set to announce plans for how to separate Smiths Medical.
“Ultimately, it was a decision that has been made by the board of directors and by the executive committee of the group,” Smiths Medical marketing executive Carl Stamp said, “to really ensure that we are getting the strength of both companies — getting the strength of the med-device industry for a very specific medical device player, Smiths Medical, and you have the ability for … the other businesses in Smiths Group to really strongly relate to the industries in which they are involved.”
Potential options include spinning off Smiths Medical as a stand-alone company based in Minnesota, selling off a large stake in the company in an IPO-like public offering, or finding a buyer for the entire medical business, the note from Stifel’s Jones said. He speculated in November that the first option appeared the most likely.
Smiths Medical is a large med-tech player in a state with many such companies. With a global employee head count of about 7,600, including 850 in Minnesota, Smiths Medical is one of the largest med-tech companies in the state by total head count, ranking just behind Medtronic and 3M Health Care.
Smiths Medical is perhaps best-known for its infusion pumps, which are programmable machines often mounted on an IV pole next to a hospital bed to dispense drugs or fluids through an IV line. Last year Smiths Medical launched its latest ambulatory infusion pump, the CADD-Solis wireless infusion pump, which can wirelessly communicate with electronic health record systems and can remotely accept updates to its drug library and internal software. (Such pumps have been targeted by computer hackers in the past.)
Infusion systems made up a third of Smiths Medical’s $1.2 billion in revenue last year. Another third came from “consumables” like IV tubes and needles. Two divisions specializing in vital care and specialty products generated the final third. The medical group overall launched 20 new products during fiscal 2018.
The medical division made up 27 percent of Smiths Group’s overall $4.2 billion in revenue during the fiscal year that ended in July. Other company divisions include John Crane, which sells seals and other equipment used in industries like oil and gas (also 27 percent), and Smiths Detection, which makes security equipment including machines that scan luggage and other cargo (24 percent).
Despite making major new investments and launching 20 new products, the Minnesota-based medical division reported a disappointing 7 percent drop in revenue and an operating margin decline of nearly 3 percentage points, to 17.6 percent.
Executives said the problems that led to the declines in performance on the medical side are all but resolved. For example, Smiths Medical had to devote a sizable share of resources to bring its hundreds of individual products into conformance with Europe’s new Medical Device Regulation, which is stricter than the existing law. It also had a distribution problem related to the cancellation a distributor contract that has since been resolved. Increased research-and-development spending also affected the 2018 profit margin.
There has been no shortage of interested buyers for Smiths Medical in the past, though Smiths Group has yet to negotiate a deal to its liking.
Last September, the board at Smiths Group rejected an offer from California’s ICU Medical to buy Smiths Medical for a reported $3.6 billion in cash and stock. In 2013, two different bids of at least $2.5 billion each were either rejected or failed before a final bid was reached.
Stifel’s Jones observed that if Smiths Medical became a free-standing company, the move would give it more freedom “to participate in industry consolidation, and make the bigger calls on investment priorities and strategic options without reference to the rest of the group.”