BASF Joins Chemical Deal Rush in $3.2 Billion Albemarle Deal

  • Transaction to be completed by end of year, companies say
  • Purchase will bolster BASF’s coatings operation, company says

BASF SE joined the rush for deals in the chemicals industry with the $3.2 billion acquisition of a coatings business from Albemarle Corp. that expands its portfolio of anti-corrosion treatments for metal car- and plane-parts.

The world’s biggest chemical maker will pay cash for Chemetall, which provides coatings to prevent metal corrosion on car chassis prior to spray painting, the Ludwigshafen-based company said in a statement Friday. The asset generated $845 million in sales last year, with the purchase price implying a multiple of 15.3 times earnings through March.

The acquisition is the largest under BASF Chief Executive Officer Kurt Bock, who in his five years at the helm so far has advocated caution. Until now, BASF had sat out big consolidation moves, saying it hadn’t found targets that met its criteria, even as competitors Dow Chemical Co. and DuPont Co. opted to merge, and leading players in the agrochemical industry sought alliances. Evonik Industries AG, Germany’s No. 2 chemical maker after BASF, agreed to pay $3.8 billion for a unit from Air Products & Chemicals Inc. that BASF itself had coveted.

“It looks expensive for even more European industrial exposure,” said Jeremy Redenius, an analyst at Bernstein. Factoring in an estimated $40 million in synergies -- equal to about 5 percent of Frankfurt-based Chemetall sales -- the multiple drops to 12 times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, he said.

Shares of BASF rose 0.2 percent to 68 euros as of 4:00 p.m. in Frankfurt trading. Albemarle shares added 4 percent to $83.20.

Joining In

With more than $170 billion worth of chemical industry M&A in the pipeline -- including the biggest wave of agrochemical deals -- BASF finally pounced. Its biggest takeover under Bock was the $1.25 billion spent on oil-and-gas assets from Statoil ASA. The only other purchase that surpassed the billion-dollar mark was seed-treatment supplier Becker Underwood Inc in 2012.

The takeover of Frankfurt-based Chemetall is expected to close by year end, Albemarle said in the statement. Bloomberg News reported in May that Albemarle was considering a sale of the business.

Europe Exposure

Chemetall offers a “strong strategic fit” for BASF’s existing coatings business, board member and North America chief Wayne Smith said in the statement, fitting with Bock’s strategy to move the conglomerate away from commodity chemicals increasingly produced in emerging markets toward products that are sold to car- and plane-makers.

Redenius said one concern with the deal is the increase in exposure to an industrial Europe that’s struggling to grow, with question marks hanging over the strength of the car market.

“This concern links back to our thesis that surplus capacity in Chemetall’s customer industries -- auto, aero, coil, metal forming -- will pressure margins along the value chain, and ‘steal’ volume growth from the core European market, as much of the surplus capacity has been built in Asia,” the Bernstein analyst said in a note.

Albemarle Debt

For Albemarle, the deal is a means to pay down debt from its acquisition of Rockwood Holdings Inc. for $6 billion in 2015. It bought Rockwood’s lithium business to take advantage of demand for the lightweight metal used in rechargeable batteries in smartphones and electric cars.

"The sale of Chemetall reflects Albemarle’s continued commitment to maximizing shareholder value by investing in the future growth of our high priority businesses, reducing leverage and returning capital to shareholders,” Albemarle CEO Luke Kissam said in the statement.

The transaction value may be reduced for underfunded and unfunded pension obligations and other reasons, Albemarle said. Bank of America Merrill Lynch is advising Albemarle while Shearman & Sterling LLP is legal adviser. BASF worked with Citigroup, with legal help from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.

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