Onex buys Kodak health unit for up to $2.55 Billion

Eastman Kodak Co. said  it will sell its health imaging business to a subsidiary of Onex Corp., Canada's biggest buyout firm, for up to $2.55 billion.

Created a year after the discovery of X-rays in 1895, the unit accounts for nearly one-fifth of Kodak's overall sales but its operating profit plunged 21 percent in 2005 as margins tightened. Kodak plans to use the proceeds to repay about $1.15 billion of secured term debt and for other undisclosed purposes.

The sale to Onex Healthcare Holdings Inc. comes as the iconic photographic products company scrambles to generate larger profits from digital photography as its storied film business erodes. It has reported two straight years of quarterly losses.

All 8,100 employees associated with the health group, which makes X-ray film, medical printers and information management software and storage systems, will continue with the business, Kodak said.

The deal is expected to close in the first half of this year and "there's no layoffs as part of this," said company spokesman Chris Veronda. The health unit has manufacturing operations in Rochester, Windsor, Colo., Oakdale, Minn. and White City, Ore., as well as Xiamen, China, Guadalajara, Mexico, and Berlin.

Kodak's competitors in health imaging include General Electric Co.'s GE Healthcare, Siemens AG and Philips Electronics NV.

In May, Kodak hired Goldman Sachs & Co. to help it explore alternatives for the unit. Analysts had expected it to be sold outright for anywhere from $2 billion to $4 billion, dismantled and sold in pieces, or turned into a joint venture.
"The amount they got for it was OK, it wasn't great, it wasn't a huge disappointment," said analyst Shannon Cross of Cross Research in Short Hills, N.J. "But now the big question is, what are they going to do with the $1 billion that's left?"

Under terms of the deal, Kodak will receive $2.35 billion in cash at closing, and up to an additional $200 million in future payments if Onex Healthcare investors realize an internal rate of return of more than 25 percent of their investment.

Toronto-based Onex Corp., a diversified investment company with annual revenues of about 20 billion Canadian dollars ($17 billion), teamed up on the recent takeovers of Australia's Qantas Airways Ltd. and Raytheon's aircraft business.

A photographic film icon during much of the 20th century, Kodak has shifted its sight its focus onto digital photography and commercial printing.

"We now plan to focus our attention on the significant digital growth opportunities within our businesses in consumer and professional imaging and graphic communications," Chief Executive Antonio Perez said.

Aside from reducing debt, Perez said other potential uses for the cash proceeds are under review and will be discussed at its annual meeting with investors Feb. 8 in New York City.

Kodak shares fell 29 cents to $25.34 in midday trading on the New York Stock Exchange. They have traded in a 52-week range of $18.93 to $30.91.

As Kodak enters a fourth year in its historic makeover, it has accumulated $2 billion in net losses over the last eight quarters and piled up $2.6 billion in restructuring charges since January 2004.

Its losses narrowed to $37 million in the July-to-September period as digital profits surged above $100 million. It posts fourth-quarter earnings on Jan. 31.

In trimming manufacturing operations and axing up to 27,000 jobs, Kodak's global work force has dipped below 50,000 from a peak of 145,300 in 1988.

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Author`s name Petr Ermilin