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Business Comment

AstraZeneca shareholders to change their tune when money rolls in


Outlook Big shareholders in AstraZeneca have been less than effusive about the bid.

Some, like Aberdeen's Martin Gilbert, express reservations about the potential long-term impact on Britain's science base. Others, like Neil Woodford, fret about the effect on the combined companies' value a few years hence, saying they prefer the current AstraZeneca management to be left alone. More still, like Swedish giant Investor AB, simply think it undervalues the business.

But the big shareholders' trading patterns suggest most are licking their collective lips for the inevitable moment Pfizer significantly ups its offer. That's why they've been spending billions of pounds in recent days and weeks increasing their stakes in AstraZeneca.

A quick squint at the share register shows Mr Gilbert's own fund managers seem less squeamish than him about the deal, pumping up Aberdeen's stake last week by £511m. BlackRock and Axa likewise have been big buyers. But wiliest money-runner so far has to be JPMorgan Chase, which bought five million AstraZeneca shares in March, bringing its holdings up to nearly 14 million and giving it a paper profit of nearly £50m.

When a bid comes in north of £55 a share, expect investors' protesting voices quietly to disappear.