WebMD agrees to be acquired in $2.8B buyout

WebMD Health Corp. agreed to be taken private by buyout firm KKR & Co. for about $2.8 billion, five months the online health information company hired bankers to explore a possible sale.

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WebMD stockholders will receive $66.50 a share in cash, according to a statement Monday. The price is 20 percent more than Friday’s closing level, and 29 percent higher than where the shares traded in mid-February, when New York-based WebMD hired JPMorgan Chase to review strategic alternatives.

The sale caps months of speculation about whether WebMD, which went public 12 years ago and is now used by 75 million consumers each month, would find a buyer. In 2012, when the stock was trading near all-time lows, a sale attempt had fallen apart.

For KKR, the acquisition will add to a growing portfolio of health-related firms: Also on Monday, the private equity firm agreed to acquire a majority stake in nutritional supplements maker Nature’s Bounty Co. Its other health-care investments include Air Medical Group Holdings and Arbor Pharmaceuticals LLC.

WebMD’s price has been volatile since the 2005 IPO, and KKR is paying just under the all-time high of $66.98 in May 2016. The stock had slumped in the second part of last year, though, and was trading under $50 at the end of January. In March, activist investor Blue Harbour Group raised its stake in WebMD to 8.99 percent and disclosed talks with the company. The group’s founder and chief executive officer, Cliff Robbins, said at the time that WebMD was underpriced and was likely to appeal to multiple buyers.

“WebMD has a unique position at the convergence of two megatrends, digital commerce and health and wellness, and has two industry leading businesses in Medscape and WebMD,” David Silverman, a managing director of Blue Harbour Group, said in a statement. “We congratulate WebMD’s board of directors for conducting a thorough strategic review process and reaching this transaction with a great partner for them in KKR.”

WebMD’s shares traded up 20 percent to $65.99 at 10:33 a.m. in New York, its largest intraday gain since April 2014.

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