FTC wants Linde, Praxair to divest more

  • FTC wants Linde, Praxair to divest more (c) LindeFTC wants Linde, Praxair to divest more (c) Linde

The bigger they come, the harder they – potentially can – fall. Up to now, nothing has fallen except share prices, though these usually quickly recover. However, as the round of mega mergers in the chemical-related industries staggers toward its finale, industrial gases producers Linde and Praxair are finding the merger path even rockier.

Like Bayer-Monsanto earlier, it now looks likely that if this German-American industrial marriage is to take place, the would-be partners will not only could have to part with more assets than originally anticipated, but also exceed the divestment caps they have placed on the deal.

While recent reports suggested that the European Commission is close to giving its green light – a decision is due by Aug. 24 – the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) apparently wants to see more assets shed. In an ad-hoc statement issued on Sunday, Linde and Praxair said they are now analyzing these regulatory body’s expectations, which they find “onerous,” to try to achieve a “mutually acceptable result. “

 The companies added that they remain in ”constructive dialog” with authorities and each other, although some analysts said they now see a “very high risk” that the Oct. 24 deadline to close the merger could be missed. 

Successful completion of the proposed transaction would make the combined entity world’s biggest supplier of industrial gases, passing Air Liquide and regaining the crown Linde took from the French when it bought Britain’s BOC in 2007 – prior to being overtaken again when Air Liquide bought Airgas of the US.

Should the deal fall apart, it would be the second failed attempt at a Linde-Praxair come-together. The first effort was scuttled in 2016 by German unions fearing job cuts and a loss of influence within the company, which would be managed from the US: The plans were relatively quickly revived, but not without a top-echelon partial management reshuffle at Linde.

As yet, there is no indication as to which additional businesses the FTC may require to be sold.

In mid-July, MG Industries, a joint venture between German gases producer Messer and private equity firm CVC Capital Partners Fund VII, agreed to buy certain Linde activities in the Americas for $3.3 billion.

The units with sales of around $1.7 billion include most of Linde’s US bulk business and its operations in Brazil, Canada and Colombia.

To address EU concerns, Praxair has agreed to sell its European assets to Taiyo Nippon Sanso for €5 billion. These include the US player’s industrial gases businesses in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK, with altogether around 2,500 employees.

In their initial merger agreement, the partners limited divestments to assets with an annual revenue value of less than €3.7 billion ($4.3 billion) or EBITDA of less than €1.1 billion. Citing “people with knowledge of the matter,” the news agency Bloomberg suggested earlier this year that competition authority-mandated divestments could have annual sales as high as $8 billion.

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