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Bausch & Lomb agrees to buyout

The eye-care firm, hobbled by recalls and accounting woes, would go private for $3.67 billion.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - Bausch & Lomb Inc., struggling to recover from the global recall of a contact-lens cleaner blamed for severe eye infections, has agreed to a $3.67 billion buyout by private-equity firm Warburg Pincus L.L.C., though Wall Street seemed to see potential for a higher price tag.

The 154-year-old eye-care company's stock rose 9 percent after yesterday announcement, exceeding the amount Warburg agreed to pay, a sign investors may expect a rival bid.

Warburg said it would pay stockholders $65 a share, which represents a 26 percent premium to the average price of the stock over the 30-day period when rumors began circulating about a possible buyout.

The stock rose $6.00 yesterday to close at $67.50 on the New York Stock Exchange.

The New York buyout-and-venture-capital firm also would take on about $830 million of debt from Bausch.

Over the last 18 months, Bausch & Lomb has been plagued by product recalls, accounting woes, and delayed financial reports. Three weeks ago, it finally said its sales fell 2.6 percent to $2.9 billion in 2006, dragged down by a 21 percent slide in lens-care revenue.

The maker of contact lenses, ophthalmic drugs, and vision-correction surgical instruments traces its roots to 1853, when German immigrant John Jacob Bausch set up an optical-goods shop in Rochester and partnered with Henry Lomb, a friend who loaned him $60.

The company went on to develop the first optical-quality glass made in America, groundbreaking sunglasses for the military in World War I, and camera lenses used to capture the first satellite pictures of the moon. It introduced the world's first soft contact lenses in 1971. It now employs about 13,000 people.

Last May, it withdrew its new-formula ReNu with MoistureLoc multipurpose contact-lens cleaner from markets around the world. Federal regulators called the $100-million-a-year product the "potential root cause" of an outbreak of potentially blinding Fusarium keratitis infections.

The recall appeared to be the key factor in its decision to be acquired and go private, analysts said.

"It would have put them at risk of some negative headlines," said analyst Jeff Johnson of Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc., of Milwaukee. "So it's not surprising to me that private equity would come along, take these guys out of the public spotlight."

The company does not expect to move its headquarters from Rochester.