Jittery investors dumped shares of Alere Inc. on Wednesday amid sudden fears that its blockbuster $5.8 billion deal to be acquired by Abbott Laboratories might be in jeopardy.
The selloff, sending Waltham-based Alere’s stock down more than 12 percent by day’s end, was triggered by Abbott chief executive Miles White’s refusal to answer questions about the Alere buyout during a conference call with stock analysts. That fueled speculation that Abbott, a global health care company based outside Chicago, might be reassessing the takeover.
White cited Alere’s delay in filing a regulatory report with the Securities and Exchange Commission and its disclosure the Justice Department had subpoenaed documents from the Waltham company in a foreign corruption inquiry into its sales practices in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Alere last month disclosed it would miss the March 15 deadline for filing the SEC report because it was gathering information on how it recognized foreign revenue.
“Right now I would say it’s not appropriate for me to comment on it,” White said on Wednesday’s call.
Abbott vice president Scott Stoffel declined to elaborate on White’s remarks or respond to questions. Juliet Cunningham, an Alere company spokeswoman, declined to comment.
Alere, a medical diagnostics company spun off from Johnson & Johnson in 2001, has quietly grown into a global leader in the fast-growing “rapid diagnostics” business, marketing devices used to perform point-of-care tests at doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, and patients’ homes for everything from HIV to toxicology to cholesterol.
The company has nearly 10,000 employees worldwide, including more than 100 at its Waltham headquarters.
Chief executive Namal Nawana, who took over at Alere in 2014, has moved to divest several businesses. They included its management services unit Alere Health, which was sold to Optum, an arm of health insurer UnitedHealth Group, for $600 million in 2014.
But its Feb. 1 announcement that Alere would be acquired by Abbott for $5.8 billion signaled what would be the largest buyout of a Massachusetts medical technology company since Medtronic Inc. paid $50 billion for Mansfield’s Covidien PLC early last year. The announcement sent Alere’s shares up more than 45 percent on the New York Stock Exchange.
White’s reluctance to discuss whether Abbott is still committed to the deal clearly rattled investors Wednesday, but the company wouldn’t say whether it is considering backing out of the Alere transaction. It had planned to operate Alere as a subsidiary.
Shares of Alere closed down $6.09 at $43.38 Wednesday, losing 12.3 percent. Abbott’s shares ticked up 12 cents to $43.97, a gain of 0.3 percent.