Holcim, Lafarge list asset sales for merger

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Bloomberg

A Lafarge distribution centre in Albi, France. The French firm and Swiss rival Holcim plan to create the world's largest cement business, but will have to dispose of assets to win approval. Photo: Bloomberg

Holcim and Lafarge, seeking competition approval for a planned $40 billion (R430bn) merger, outlined an initial list of assets for sale to cut the importance of Europe to 20 percent of combined revenue at the two biggest cement makers.

As part of a programme of disposals, Anglo American would sell Lafarge its stake in a British tarmac and aggregates venture for at least £885m (R16bn) as a prelude to Holcim and Lafarge divesting most of that business, the companies said in a statement yesterday.

“We have received a lot of interest, which is above expectations if I listen to our bankers,” Lafarge chief executive Bruno Lafont said. “It’s the first time in the history of the industry that such a large number of assets is for sale to anticipate the requirements of the regulatory authorities.”

Keiron Hodgson, a commodities and mining analyst at Charles Stanley Securities, said yesterday that he believed Anglo’s sale was nothing other than a sensible divestment of non-core operations.

“This has been expected for some time and we believe forms part of a larger reorganisation process for divisions unable to meet the group’s return targets,” Hodgson said.

“It should have minimal impact on South Africa.”

The French and Swiss companies plan to complete the merger in the first half of 2015, with Europe accounting for the bulk of the divestments as the region has the biggest overlap.

The disposals proposed yesterday represented 10 percent of the groups’ combined annual sales of $40bn and were a major part of what would be divested to satisfy antitrust regulators, Holcim chief executive Bernard Fontana said.

Holcim, based in Jona, Switzerland, had hired Credit Suisse and HSBC Holdings, and Paris-based Lafarge was working with Morgan Stanley and BNP Paribas, people with knowledge of the situation said. Combined, the assets might fetch as much as e5bn (R73bn), they said.

LafargeHolcim would start talks with suitors immediately, Lafont said, and more buyers might come forward now that a list of assets was public.

Fontana said the groups had already received about 50 “marks of interest” from financial and industrial buyers.

Lafarge shares fell 0.52 percent by 10.32am in Paris, while Holcim declined 0.62 percent by the same time in Zurich.

European plants earmarked for divestment span sites from Austria to Serbia, France, Germany and Romania. Other disposals will include sites in Canada, Mauritius and Brazil.

Announcing a list of planned European sales had helped to ease the evaluation process with regulators, Fontana said. Lafarge and Holcim were in discussions with EU authorities about filing for approval, a prerequisite for the plan to create the world’s largest cement business. They would make their official filing to regulators this summer, he said. – Bloomberg


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