FocusChemical M&A activity heats up despite economic concerns

21 July 2010 21:56  [Source: ICIS news]

M&A talk heats upBy Joseph Chang

NEW YORK (ICIS news)--Global chemical industry mergers and acquisitions (M&A) are picking up despite concerns about a potential double-dip recession, several investment bankers said on Wednesday.

“Chemical M&A activity is humming along right now. We’re not hearing about Europe or Asia holding back talks. We are seeing a noticeable pickup in deals across the board – from commodities to specialties,” said Chris Cerimele, director and head of chemicals at investment bank Houlihan Lokey.

“We haven’t seen a slowdown at all in M&A activity," added Telly Zachariades, co-founder and partner of investment bank The Valence Group. "Chemical companies are hitting it out of the park in terms of financial results. They have the cash and desire to do deals, and more assets in the marketplace to choose from.”

On 19 July, South Korea’s Honam Petrochemical picked up a 72.2% stake in Malaysian polyethylene (PE) major Titan Chemicals for Malaysian Ringgit $2.94bn ($910m). Honam plans to take full ownership of Titan by November, for a total investment of $1.3bn, it said.

On the specialties front, German major BASF announced its €3.1bn acquisition of specialty chemical firm Cognis on 23 June.

“Activity has picked up and the second half is likely to be busier,” said Leland Harrs, managing director at investment bank PrinceRidge Group.

“There has been a noticeable pickup in interest, dialogue and activity, and plenty of assets for sale,” he added.

One high-profile asset for sale is US-based Eastman Chemical’s polyethylene terephthalate (PET) business. Other PET businesses are also on the selling block, according to sources in the financial community.

Valuations are also rising, noted Allan Benton, vice chairman and head of the chemical practice at US-based investment bank Scott-Macon.

Completed global specialty chemical deals in the first half of 2010 have had a median enterprise value to earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EV/EBITDA) multiple of 10.1 times. That compares with 7.3 times in 2009, 9.6 times in 2008 and 9.8 times in 2007, said Benton.

There were also 23 closed chemical deals with sales or EBITDA figures in the first half of 2010 versus just 7 deals in the year-ago period and 20 for all of 2009, he said.

“The activity level is stronger. We see strategic buyers wanting to make good acquisitions in their core businesses,” said Benton.

Many chemical companies are reporting strong financial performance and have plenty of cash to put to work, noted Cerimele.

“There are lots of corporate buyers out there, with most looking for bolt-on acquisitions in the $100m range,” he said.

Private equity firms were also expected to be active, particularly on the sell side.

“Some companies owned by private equity are having record years. They have really gotten their act together on improving profitability and cutting costs – and now could be a good time to sell,” said Zachariades.

And smaller chemical deals are also in the works. Sources said two factors in particular were adding fuel to the M&A fire for the sale of small companies – the European Union’s Reach legislation and the expected jump in the US capital gains tax.

“Many smaller chemical businesses are trying to close deals because of the costs of complying with Reach – this is accelerating the decision to sell,” said Cerimele.

“Also, in the US, more sellers are trying to get deals done before the end of the year, when capital gains taxes are expected to rise. If you don’t go to market in the next month or so, it’s going to be tough to get a deal done before year end,” he added.

In the US, the capital gains tax rate of 15% would rise to 20% in 2011 unless the Obama administration acts before then to extend tax cuts.

($1 = €0.78)

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By: Joseph Chang
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