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WILSON GREATBATCH STOCK UP 43% ON FIRST DAY

Investors got a charge out of Wilson Greatbatch Ltd.'s initial public offering Friday.

The Clarence battery maker's stock shot up by 43 percent on its first day of trading as investors embraced the first full-blown initial public offering by a Western New York company in more than four years.

Wilson Greatbatch stock, which was priced at $16 per share when trading began, began trading at $20 and peaked at $22.88 as the market closed. It was the best-performing stock on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.

The medical products maker, whose batteries power nearly all of the world's heart pacemakers, sold 5 million shares of its stock to investors, raising $80 million that Wilson Greatbatch plans to use to pay down some of its debt.

The offering even went a little better than expected. The $16 per share was in the middle of the $15 to $17 price range that the company had targeted. But the demand from investors was strong enough that Wilson Greatbatch's underwriters were able to increase the size of the sale from the 4.7 million shares that originally had been planned.

"We got the whole thing sold, plus a little extra," said Ernest J. Norman, a Wilson Greatbatch spokesman. "Plus, we got it in the price range we had wanted. So we're happy."

Wilson Greatbatch was the fourth-hottest among the 10 IPOs that hit the market on Friday, trailing behind fuel-cell specialist Proton Energy, which soared by 68 percent; biotech firm Ciphergen Biosystems, which doubled, and software maker Docent, which rose 66 percent.

The Wilson Greatbatch IPO was the first by major Western New York company since Columbus McKinnon went public in February 1996.

First Niagara Financial Group, the parent company of Lockport Savings Bank, saw its stock soar by 60 percent on its first day of trading in the spring of 1998, but all of the shares included in the offering had been snapped up by the bank's customers in advance, preventing other investors from buying until the stock started trading.

The company was founded in 1970 by Clarence inventor Wilson Greatbatch, who developed the world's first implantable heart pacemaker, and it still makes about 60 percent of the small but durable batteries used to power pacemakers and implantable cardiac defibrillators. Another 30 percent of those batteries are made under licenses granted by Wilson Greatbatch, giving the company a near-monopoly on the market for pacemaker and internal defibrillator batteries.

Following a difficult 1999, the company's finances have improved in the first half of this year, with Wilson Greatbatch cutting its losses nearly in half to $776,000 from $1.48 million a year ago.

The company's sales rose 22 percent during the first six months of the year to $46.6 million from $38.3 million, mainly because of sharply higher revenues from a new line of capacitors that were introduced last fall.

The capacitors, which are used in implantable defibrillators, store energy generated by a battery before it is delivered to the heart. The capacitors use new technology that allows Wilson Greatbatch to make the devices smaller and more efficient than conventional capacitors.

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