By Frank Siebelt and Philipp Halstrick
FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Two U.S. drugs distribution groups McKesson Corp
Celesio, which owns the Lloyds Pharmacy chain in Britain, has hired Citigroup
The potential tie-up is another sign of how the drugs sector is having to consider partnerships in response to price pressures in the industry partly due to government cutbacks on health spending.
The three largest drugs distributors in the United States, AmerisourceBergen
In March, for example, pharmacy chain Walgreen Co
"After the latest transatlantic alliance signed by its competitors, CVS, McKesson and Cardinal Health are likely to be under pressure to establish a global position as well and bundle its purchasing," DZ Bank analyst Thomas Maus said in a note to clients.
"Celesio is among the top players in the European and Brazilian pharmaceutical trading sector and is an obvious takeover target."
Celesio's shares rose 6 percent, making them the top gainer on Germany's MDax <.MDAXI> index of medium-sized shares.
The U.S. healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors are under price pressure from the government and also consumers who want to cut their medical spending.
Celesio, for its part, is grappling with cuts to healthcare budgets across Europe, its main market, and a price war among German drugs distributors.
A source familiar with the situation told Reuters last month that Celesio had been in talks with U.S. drugstore chain CVS Caremark
German holding company Franz Haniel & Cie
Haniel is aware of the talks with McKesson and Cardinal Health, the sources said, but it was not clear if it would sell some or even all of its shares.
Celesio, Haniel and Citigroup declined to comment. Cardinal Health and McKesson were not immediately available for comment.
Haniel has previously said that Celesio remained a core investment for the group, even though it reduced its stake last year. Haniel also sold down its holdings in retailer Metro AG
(Additional reporting by Ludwig Burger and Matthias Inverardi; Editing by Louise Heavens and Jane Merriman)