UK Markets close in 7 hrs 27 mins

Ailing Thyssenkrupp drops split plan in favour of elevators float

By Edward Taylor, Christoph Steitz and Tom Käckenhoff
FILE PHOTO: A logo of ThyssenKrupp AG is pictured outside the ThyssenKrupp headquarters in Essen, November 23, 2017. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen

By Edward Taylor, Christoph Steitz and Tom Käckenhoff

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Germany's Thyssenkrupp will embark on a fresh restructuring and list elevators, its most successful business, after regulatory opposition sunk plans to hive off its steel division, unravelling its previous break-up proposal.

Under pressure from activist investors, Thyssenkrupp had tried to merge its steel unit with Tata Steel's European operations and split the rest of the conglomerate in two to highlight the value of its industrial businesses.

But after about three years in the planning, Thyssenkrupp and India's Tata ditched the steel joint venture on Friday, saying they were not prepared to offer further concessions to satisfy European anti-trust regulators.

At the same time, the steel-to-submarines group abandoned a plan to spin off its capital goods business - car parts, plant engineering and elevators - following a collapse in its share price since it announced the scheme in September.

"Under these conditions, a separation is no longer the best solution for Thyssenkrupp. We can no longer achieve the restart we intended," Chief Executive Guido Kerkhoff said.

Thyssenkrupp said it would now cut 6,000 jobs or 4% of its workforce, a third of them in the steel division, and pursue an initial public offering of the elevator business, worth an estimated 14 billion euros (12.08 billion pounds), twice the parent group's market value.

At the same time, Thyssenkrupp said it will be open to new ownership structures for its car parts, plant engineering and marine systems units, adding this could result in it owning a minority stake in them.

It expects to keep a majority of its steel and materials trading divisions in the long-term.

Shares in Thyssenkrupp jumped by as much as 28% on the news, first reported by Reuters, setting them on track for their best day ever. Tata Steel shares closed down 6.2%.

Thyssenkrupp has faced investor calls for a more radical group overhaul for years, with the criticism largely aimed at its sprawling conglomerate structure.

The company said its new plan, which involves introducing a holding structure to allow more flexible management of its varied portfolio and will be voted on by its supervisory board on May 21., would lead to a net loss for the year.

Meanwhile, Tata Steel said it would explore all options for its European business, including finding a new partner and selling assets.


FAILED STRATEGY

Thyssenkrupp counts activist investor Cevian, which has an 18 percent stake, and Elliott, which has a smaller holding in the conglomerate, among its shareholders, with both having long demanded operational improvements.

"It is clear that Thyssenkrupp's strategy of the past has failed," Cevian founding partner Lars Foerberg said.

The Alfried Krupp von Bohlen and Halbach Stiftung, Thyssenkrupp's largest shareholder with a 21 percent stake, said it would assess the proposals, adding it wanted to safeguard jobs and a sustainable ability to pay dividends.

Thyssenkrupp's net debt had nearly doubled to 4.68 billion euros by the end of its fiscal first quarter, compared with the end of its 2017/2018 business year - more than 4 times its expected adjusted EBIT (earnings before interest and tax) for the current fiscal year.

Its dividend has remained stagnant at 0.15 euros per share since 2014/15.

Pressure from investors seeking to realise greater value by breaking up conglomerates led General Electric to spin off its healthcare business and Siemens to announce it will separate its gas turbines business.

Kerkhoff's idea at Thyssenkrupp was to separate higher quality capital goods operations of elevators, auto suppliers and core plant construction from its other more cyclical businesses.

He said he would now "swiftly prepare" but wait for the right moment for an elevators IPO, in which Thyssenkrupp would initially keep a majority. The group said it wants to be market-ready in the new financial year, which starts in October.

"All stakeholders now believe that a fundamentally new direction is urgently needed to give the company's businesses a future. There can be no historical or political taboos ... if Thyssenkrupp wants to sincerely tackle underperformance and get the businesses back to growth," Cevian's Foerberg said.

Specialised businesses are often more highly valued than conglomerates because in times of growth, high-potential assets do not have to compete for the combined balance sheet with businesses offering lower returns.

But rising trade tensions between the United States and China, and fears of a disorderly Brexit have dented share prices, forcing companies including Continental and Volkswagen to review plans for spin offs and listings.

Thyssenkrupp said it now expects to post adjusted earnings before interest and tax of 1.1 billion euros to 1.2 billion euros, and to post negative cashflow in the high three-digit million euros range for the 2018/2019 year.


(Additional reporting by Promit Mukherjee in Mumbai and Arno Schuetze in Frankfurt; Writing by Edward Taylor, Christoph Steitz and Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Georgina Prodhan, Keith Weir and Alexander Smith)