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Pfizer spinoff could is hotly anticipated IPO

NEW YORK — Making medicines for livestock and pets may not be as sexy a business as social networking, but Pfizer’s animal health unit is poised to enjoy the biggest stock market debut since Facebook’s.

The Pfizer division, Zoetis, raised $2.2 billion in its initial public offering Thursday, exceeding expectations by pricing its stock at $26 a share, above the expected $22 to $25, pricing the company at $13 billion.

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The spinoff is a welcome sign for Wall Street that the IPO market is returning, eight months after Facebook’s stumbles helped prompt a chill.

The lackluster performances of Facebook, Groupon, and other once-hot social media companies made many companies cautious about pursuing stock offerings. But in recent months, companies as varied as Norwegian Cruise Lines and Realogy, parent of the real estate brokerage Century 21, have beat expectations.

Notably, most of the companies that have gone public since fall have not come from the technology industry. So far this year, offerings have raised $2.5 billion, more than quadruple what was collected in the same time last year, according to Research Capital. Many of these offerings have priced above their predicted range.

In many ways, Zoetis is as far from a fresh-faced Internet darling as possible. Formed six decades ago, it focuses on animal medicines. Zoetis is solidly profitable, having earned $446 million on top of $3.2 billion in revenue for the first nine months of last year. The company has increased its earnings for each of the last three years.

Zoetis’ central pitch is relatively simple: It is the biggest player in an industry that is rapidly growing.

Its products aren’t subject to intense competition from generic rivals, an issue that Pfizer often confronts. And because customers pay for the medicines out of pocket, Zoetis doesn’t need to worry about dealing with insurers.

All that has helped generate demand unseen since at least Facebook’s $16 billion offering. Zoetis’ stock sale was more than 17 times oversubscribed, said a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

Even major institutional investors got only a fraction of the shares they requested.

“This deal has been talked about for months,’’ said Scott Sweet, senior managing director of IPOboutique.com. ‘‘It’s almost a circuslike atmosphere.’’

In a sign of its belief in Zoetis’s prospects, Pfizer plans to hold on to 413.9 million Class B shares, giving it 10 times the voting power of public shareholders.

The company is expected to begin trading Friday under the ticker symbol ZTS.

If Zoetis succeeds as a public company, analysts expect other drug makers, including Merck and Sanofi-Aventis, to consider spinning off their own animal health divisions.

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