Linde-Praxair Deal Could be Finalized in April

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Terms of the proposed €60 billion merger between industrial gases heavyweights Linde of Germany and Praxair of the US could be finalized by late April, Linde CEO Aldo Belloni said in an interview with the German daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Belloni said the binding merger agreement in which all details have been worked out is planned to be ready by the end of the first month of Q2 and would then be put to Linde shareholders at the annual general meeting on May 10. After investors give the green light, the deal would be presented to  regulatory authorities worldwide, and the transaction could be completed in the first half of 2018.

The agreement foresees approval by both companies’ shareholders’ meetings. In Linde’s case, a 75% majority of the outstanding shares would have to agree.  With the merger, the new company, which would be called Linde, would become the global market’s largest player, again displacing Air Liquide, which was recently enlarged with the acquisition of Air Products of the US.

A detail emerging from the German interview is that headquarters of the new Linde will be at Praxair’s current base in Danbury, Connecticut.  According to previous statements, the merged company was to be headed by current Praxair CEO Stephen Angel but be officially based at a “neutral” location in the European Economic Area.  Plans still call for a listing on stock exchanges in both New York and Frankfurt.

In view of the “America First” campaign of new US President Donald Trump, an official headquarters within the US may have seemed more advisable. Conceivable, however, is a construction with a holding based in a tax-friendly European country, as had looked likely. In any case, Linde’s engineering division will become a separate company and will continue to be based in Germany.

As regards the US, Belloni hinted that the companies could face challenges from the new US administration, which is looking for national champions. "It's not easy at the moment to imagine building closer ties with the US," he told the newspaper, but added that “we are sticking to our plan, we're convinced of its logic."

Original merger talks between the two gases giants were ditched in November due to opposition from labor representatives on the Linde supervisory board.

Negotiations were resumed in December following the resignations of Linde supervisory board chairman and former CEO Wolfgang Reitzle and CFO George Denoke for different merger-related reasons.

While in December the differences with the Linde workforce were said to have been resolved, fresh reports of dissent have circulated recently. German trade union representatives on the board were thought to be concerned about a possible delay in completion of the fusion due to a probe by the German financial authority Bafin into mooted insider trading by Reitzle, who reportedly bought Linde shares while the talks were in progress.

Belloni told Süddeutsche, however, that management is acknowledging the workers’ concerns. Under a job protection pact with employee representatives, he said there will be no forced layoffs before the end of 2021.


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