ABB Said to Pay $2 Billion for B&R to Plug Gap in Automation

  • Swiss company expanding into higher-margin software market
  • CEO plans to search for further acquisitions to boost growth

ABB Ltd. pledged to hunt for more acquisitions after purchasing an Austrian company that makes industrial software and hardware used for assembly lines and even self-driving tractors, its first significant takeover since 2013.

The deal values Bernecker & Rainer Industrie-Elektronik GmbH at almost $2 billion, said a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified as the figure hasn’t been disclosed. The deal was funded with cash, Zurich-based ABB said in a statement on Tuesday. B&R generated revenue of more than $600 million in fiscal 2016.

“Strategically, this is the most important deal ABB has ever done,” Chief Executive Officer Ulrich Spiesshofer said on a call with reporters. “In the future there will be more acquisitions by ABB -- that’s one of the drivers of growth going forward -- but there is no ‘must have’ that we are desperate about.”

The purchase of B&R sees the world’s biggest maker of power grids emulate German rival Siemens AG in expanding in higher-margin software and away from its traditional hardware business. The acquisition will give ABB greater access to a machine and automation market worth $20 billion and growing at 4 percent to 5 percent a year, Spiesshofer said on a call with analysts.

This is ABB’s first significant deal since the acquisition of solar inverter maker Power-One Inc. for $1 billion in 2013, and follows the $4.5 billion takeover of Mentor Graphics Corp. of the U.S. by Siemens late last year. The acquisition will make the Swiss company the second-biggest operator in industrial automation, behind Siemens and ahead of Emerson Electric Co., General Electric Co. and Schneider Electric SE, according to ABB estimates.

‘Smart Deal’

The deal has the support of Cevian Capital AB, Spiesshofer said, the Swedish activist investor that pushed last year for ABB to spin off its power grids business.

“At one point Cevian said it sounds like a really smart deal,” the CEO said.“We have strong support from our shareholders for this transaction.”

ABB shares fell 0.2 percent to 23.24 Swiss francs as of 3:05 p.m. in Zurich, valuing the company at 51.5 billion francs ($51.4 billion).

“We consider ABB’s acquisition of Austrian B&R a smart strategic move as it closes a gap in its product portfolio and also nicely fits into ABB’s Ability digital end-to-end solutions platform,” Vontobel analyst Panagiotis Spiliopoulos wrote in a note to clients.

ABB said it’s targeting mid-term sales of more than $1 billion for the business, which employs more than 3,000 people. B&R’s management team will continue to run the company, it said.

“We agreed with the seller not to disclose the price,” an ABB spokesman said, when asked about the $2 billion valuation.

— With assistance by Jonathan Tirone

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