Linde-Praxair Merger Wins EU Approval
As expected, the European Commission has put its seal of approval on the proposed merger of leading industrial gases producers Linde of Germany and Praxair. The green light came after the merger partners agreed to sell Praxair’s entire European gas business to Japan’s Taiyo Nippon Sanso as well as its stake in the Italian joint venture SIAD and some of its helium sourcing contracts.
The SIAD stake will go to Praxair’s current joint venture partner, Flow Fin. As regards the helium contracts, the Commission has reserved the right for itself to assess the suitability of potential buyers from a competition standpoint.
From the outset, the Commission said it was concerned about the ongoing process of consolidation in the global gases market, in particular helium. Brussels said its investigation had shown that among the players active in Europe, only Praxair, Linde, Air Liquide and Air Products have the capability to bid for the largest projects and sufficient access to helium to be competitive.
Commenting on the EU’s helium contract divestment requirements, Competition Commissioner Margarethe Vestager said the Commission is making sure that the merger of Praxair and Linde will not lead to any further concentration in this market in Europe.
After taking the European hurdle, Linde and Praxair still face tough decisions about how to deal with the US Federal Trade Commission’s demand that the two players divest more assets in the US market. As yet, it has not been disclosed which businesses are being eyed.
In July, MG Industries, a joint venture of German industrial gases producer Messer and private equity group CVC Capital Partners agreed to acquire certain Linde assets in the US for $3.3 billion. However, the FTC indicated recently that this may not be enough.
Surprised by the FTC’s announcement, Linde called the US terms “more onerous than initially expected, “and some analysts commented that they saw a “very high risk” that the Oct. 24 deadline to close the merger could be missed. In any case, it looked likely that the previously agreed divestment threshold of business with more than €3.7 billion in sales and EBITDA of more than €1.1 billion could be exceeded.