ZURICH (Reuters) - Saudi Basic Industries Corp’s (SABIC) (2010.SE) move to buy a quarter stake in Clariant (CLN.S) is better than the planned merger with U.S.-based Huntsman that was blocked last year by activist investors, the Swiss chemical maker’s CEO said.
“The activist investor was the catalyst for the merger’s cancellation, but there were a whole series of other reasons why it did not succeed,” Chief Executive Hariolf Kottmann told the Basler Zeitung in an article published on Saturday.
“But talking about that is a legal minefield, so let’s not,” he said, declining to give details on the other reasons.
“The solution we have today with SABIC is clearly a better solution” than the merger.
Last year, activist investor White Tale amassed a roughly $2.4 billion (1.73 billion pounds), 25 percent stake in Clariant as part of efforts to halt its $20 billion fusion with U.S.-based Huntsman.
In late January, White Tale sold its holding in Clariant to SABIC.
Kottmann said he has worked with SABIC for years, not only as a supplier but as a partner on a joint venture.
He said SABIC’s entry saved Clariant from an activist intent on splitting the company.
Now, Kottmann is not worried the Saudi company will seek to take control.
“I can’t exclude the possibility, because I’m not SABIC,” Kottmann said. “But SABIC management is very credible and we have a strong understanding there won’t be a takeover and an integration.”
On Friday, Reuters reported Kottmann had called off a planned strategic update for investors that he had promised last year while under pressure from White Tale.
Kottmann told the Basler Zeitung he had not been pleased with the update, because it would have revolved around short-term actions meant to add value very quickly, including through cost and job cuts, closures, disposals and share buybacks.
Such an approach, he said, was aimed at demonstrating to institutional investors that Clariant on its own could do what White Tale was demanding to boost the Swiss company’s value.
“Clariant would have been dead and wouldn’t have survived five more years,” Kottmann said, adding SABIC has no desire to pursue such a path.
Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Dale Hudson