August 1, 2018 / 1:09 PM / 2 months ago

Activists renew call for structural change as Thyssenkrupp lowers guidance

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Activist investors Cevian and Elliott have renewed calls for structural changes at ThyssenKrupp (TKAG.DE) after the German industrial conglomerate cut its earnings guidance late on Tuesday.

ThyssenKrupp CEO Heinrich Hiesinger stands on stage at the company's annual shareholders meeting in Bochum, Germany, January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen

The German maker of steel, elevators and car parts, is under interim leadership after a public feud with activist investors prompted the resignation of the chief executive officer and the non-executive chairman.

Thyssenkrupp’s lower earnings forecast, citing cost overruns and sluggish orders at its plant engineering and ship building division, sent its shares down on Wednesday and prompted the fresh calls for change.

“Other German companies such as Bayer, Siemens, Continental and Daimler are adjusting their way to manage and operate their businesses and become more focused, entrepreneurial and nimble,” Cevian partner Lars Foerberg said in a statement.

“We see no reason why Thyssenkrupp should not explore the same opportunities to strengthen its business,” the 18 percent owner of Thyssen said.

Bayer has spun off its Covestro and Lanxess units, Siemens has listed its Healthineers units and merged its rail operations with Alstom, while Continental is planning to list its Powertrain unit and Daimler is evaluating separating its cars and trucks businesses.

Earlier, peer activist Elliott, which holds less than 3 percent in Thyssen, had voiced similar demands.

“What Thyssenkrupp needs (is) more freedom to act by the corporate divisions, a more entrepreneurial approach, leaner headquarters and a more agile, flexible structure to seize opportunities,” Elliott executive Franck Tuil told a German daily..

TURNING POINT

Analysts at Jefferies said that they see ThyssenKrupp as being at a turning point, adding the guidance cut gives “all the ammunition they could ask for in pushing for change”.

“While the Krupp Foundation came out last weekend noting it is not supportive of a break-up of the company, there is plenty of room for negotiation between a complete break-up and an optimisation of the current portfolio”, Jefferies said in a note to clients.

Thyssenkrupp’s guidance for adjusted operating profit in the 2017/2018 fiscal year was now for around 1.8 billion euros (£1.60 billion), at the lower end of the previously forecast range of 1.8 to 2 billion euros.

Its shares fell as much as 4 percent to the bottom of the German blue-chip index earlier on Wednesday before recovering to trade 1.4 percent lower at 1215 GMT.

Acting CEO Guido Kerkhoff earlier this month identified the Industrial Solutions unit, with its ship yard and plant engineering activities, as the group’s “problem child”.

“It is important to me to call it what it is. The results of our analysis at Industrial Solutions are anything but satisfying,” Kerkhoff said in the statement.

Thyssen, which in previous years lost billions of euros in an ill-fated steel project in the Americas, this year struck a landmark steel joint venture deal with India’s Tata Steel (TISC.NS), but that came too late to placate investors hungry for change.

(This version of the story has been refiled to change date to Aug 1.)

Reporting by Ludwig Burger; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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