Lanxess Keeps Spending Through Economic Slump to Tap Top-End Tire Demand
Lanxess AG (LXS), which supplies synthetic rubber to Pirelli & C SpA (PC) and Bridgestone Corp. (5108), said it will maintain investment at about 600 million euros ($812 million) in 2012, including a plan to convert factories in Brazil to make more materials for high-performance tires.
Removing bottlenecks at a top-end synthetic rubber plant in Cabo, Brazil will double the factory’s capacity, and Lanxess is looking at converting another plant in that country to make materials for environmentally friendly tires that reduce fuel consumption, Chief Financial Officer Bernhard Duettmann said in an interview. Other projects include expansion in products used to mold tires such as bladders and release agents, he said.
“For capex, we will invest roughly in the same magnitude next year,” the finance chief said Nov. 14 in London. “You need to be the frontrunner. If there’s a real slowdown, then we will adjust.”
Lanxess is investing at the upper end of its budget this year, driven by a “heavy” spending phase at a new complex in Singapore. The Leverkusen-based company is focusing on the top- end tire market before energy-efficiency labeling, similar to that found on refrigerators, comes into effect in Europe and South Korea next year.
While customers have adjusted inventory levels and are buying in smaller amounts, there is a steady flow of demand, the CFO said. Growth in the high-performance tire market is helping sustain sales at the company, he said. The global 3.1 trillion- euro chemical industry faces a slowdown in orders from makers of electronics, fragrances and coatings.
“Ongoing destocking will continue until year-end as no one wants to be caught out with full inventories on their balance sheet,” Duettmann said. “Somewhere in the first quarter, I will assume that there’ll be more normal behavior or even some stocking up again.”
The outlook for orders depends on prices for the raw material butadiene, the CFO said.
Pirelli’s plans for China are geared toward the performance end of the market, which is gaining ground in the Asian nation, Chairman Marco Tronchetti Provera said Nov. 9. The strategy is to serve the local market with quality goods rather than make cheaper tires for export, he said.
Silica, antioxidants and catalysts are used to improve the rolling performance, stopping power and wear of standard tires. Lanxess and Exxon Mobil Corp. are the two main producers of halogenated butyl rubber that makes radial tires that are replacing those requiring inner tubes in emerging countries. Russia’s Nizhnekamskneftekhim has also entered that market and Chinese rivals are poised to join them, Duettmann said.
If markets remain as they are, Lanxess will move to a new phase of expansion at its Singapore site, adding a polybutadiene rubber facility that’s currently in the engineering phase, the CFO said.
During Duettmann’s first seven months in the job, Lanxess made an unsuccessful 1.1 billion-euro approach for Taminco, a chemicals maker owned by CVC Capital Partners Ltd., according to people with knowledge of the situation. Had the deal gone through, Taminco would have gained additives used in crop protection, foods and consumer goods, helping diversify a portfolio that’s 50 percent dependent on the auto industry.
“Over the past few months, they’ve done several small niche acquisitions and I think it is a strategy they will continue at least for the time being in an uncertain market environment,” WestLB analyst Norbert Barth said. The company has probably withdrawn from Taminco and won’t make large acquisitions for now, he said.
A former sales manager at face-cream and adhesive tape maker Beiersdorf AG, Duettmann said the company is continually looking how to best balance its portfolio and complement non- auto related operations with acquisitions. Deals in the rubber business are unlikely because of antitrust hurdles and there aren’t opportunities in inorganic pigments, he said.
Lanxess only wants to be in businesses where it can hold a leading market position, Duettmann said. The product of a spinoff by Bayer AG in 2005, the company has spent about 420 million euros on acquisitions this year. Its biggest purchases to date are Petroflex, a Brazilian maker of synthetic rubber for tires, tubing and plastics bought for $413 million, and DSM Elastomers BV, acquired for 310 million euros.
“Everything else is possible, be it in a new field or an existing business which we can complement with an acquisition,” Duettmann said. “We are always looking. We have targets which we would love to have but which are not available. We need to look that we have balance, but it’s not the only decisive factor.”
The company also supplies pigments, used on the Eiffel Tower and the gates of Buckingham Place in the U.K., as well as additives for water treatment.
Taminco’s sale process is ongoing, and there is a chance that falling valuations may lure Lanxess back into the auction as it’s a “big opportunity to buy a leading position in several areas,” said Peter Spengler, an analyst at DZ Bank.
Duettmann declined to comment on Taminco. Lanxess has 589 million euros in cash and near-cash items in the third quarter, according to Bloomberg data, with debt of 1.37 billion euros.
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