Investors demand more changes at Thyssenkrupp ahead of review

FILE PHOTO: Thyssenkrupp's logo is seen close to the elevator test tower in Rottweil
FILE PHOTO: Thyssenkrupp’s logo is seen close to the elevator test tower in Rottweil, Germany, September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle/File Photo

April 27, 2018

By Christoph Steitz and Tom Käckenhoff

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – With a planned steel joint venture in reach, Thyssenkrupp <TKAG.DE> has pledged to refine its strategy by the second half of the year, with some shareholders expecting more radical and structural changes to remove a discount on the stock.

Much of Thyssenkrupp’s future set-up depends on a 50-50 steel venture with India’s Tata Steel <TISC.NS>, a transaction that was delayed earlier this month due to ongoing talks between Tata and workers in Britain and the Netherlands.

As part of the annual strategy dialogue between management and the supervisory board, Thyssenkrupp Chief Executive Heinrich Hiesinger has pledged to “hone our strategic vision and also adapt our financial targets accordingly”.

This has fueled hopes the group could give in to demands to simplify its complex structure, similar to a broader strategy overhaul unveiled in 2011, which led the group to pull out of a substantial part of its steel activities.

“It is hard to believe management will not feel under some pressure to come up with something equally as radical this time around,” Credit Suisse analysts wrote.

Below are some key shareholder demands:

UNTANGLING COMPLEXITY

The steel-to-submarines group should make a more profound change to its structure and explore strategic solutions for its businesses, investors such as Cevian, the group’s second-largest shareholder, have said.

“My expectation is they will look carefully at the strategy and also challenge the current structure,” Tomas Johansson, portfolio manager at SKAGEN Funds, said.

In the last financial year, the company’s corporate functions cost Thyssenkrupp 535 million euros ($652 million) in adjusted operating profit (EBIT), nearly as much as its steel division raked in.

MATERIALS SERVICES

Investors expect Thyssenkrupp to explore a sale of its materials trading division, its largest by sales. Parts of the unit, which does not belong to Thyssenkrupp’s industrial goods business, have already been labeled non-core.

Smaller peer Kloeckner & Co <KCOGn.DE> has repeatedly expressed interest in the unit, adding it would need a partner to pursue a deal as Materials Services is more than twice as big in terms of revenue.

Help could come from private equity firm Lindsay Goldberg Vogel, which bought Thyssenkrupp’s former alloys business, VDM, in 2015 and whose Chairman Dieter Vogel also leads Kloeckner’s supervisory board. Lindsay Goldberg Vogel declined to comment.

EUROPEAN STEEL

Thyssenkrupp could reveal details about a potential listing of the planned joint venture with Tata Steel, a move expected by investors but only possible once the deal is closed. Thyssenkrupp has said that listing the entity is an option.

The cornerstone of Thyssenkrupp CEO Heinrich Hiesinger’s restructuring plan, the combination of Tata Steel’s and Thyssenkrupp’s European steel operations could lead to 400-600 million euros in synergies.

“Mr Hiesinger has put all his eggs into one basket. If the deal with Tata collapses he will have to pick up the pieces. He will do everything to make sure that does not happen,” said Ingo Speich, fund manager at Union Investment.

ELEVATOR TECHNOLOGY

Thyssenkrupp’s most profitable division, Elevator Technology accounts for most of the group’s operating profit, with some investors calling for a listing or other strategic solution for the unit to unlock its value.

Although key executives at Thyssenkrupp have repeatedly said that elevators are a core business, this has not quelled speculation that Finnish peer Kone <KNEBV.HE> might be interested in a deal.

An elevator joint venture between the two groups, which also compete with Schindler <SCHP.S>, Otis <UTX.N> and Mitsubishi Electric <6503.T>, could yield annual synergies of more than 570 million euros, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

($1 = 0.8209 euros)

(Additional reporting by Simon Jessop in London; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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