ThyssenKrupp’s gambit

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There have been two developments from ThyssenKrupp’s ongoing restructuring worth noting by the cement sector in recent weeks. The first is that the Germany-based engineering and steel producer has stopped trying to sell its cement plant division. The second is that Denmark-based FLSmidth is holding serious talks about buying its mining division.

ThyssenKrupp first announced plans for a major restructuring in mid-2019 with an anticipated reduction of 6000 jobs across the business. The sale of its elevator business for Euro17.2bn to private equity was announced in February 2020. Later in May 2020 it then revealed plans to divide its previous business areas into core, dual and multi track segments. Core - including Materials Services, Industrial Components (Forged Technologies and Bearings) and Automotive Technology – would be kept as before. Dual-track – including Steel and Marine – would either be kept as before or considered for consolidation. Multi-track - including cement plant engineering, mining and more – would be sold, added to a partnership or closed. By size, core reported sales of Euro16.1bn (53%) in the company’s 2019 - 2020 financial year, dual-track reported Euro8.8bn (29%) and multi-track reported Euro5.5bn (18%).

Volkmar Dinstuhl, formerly in charge of mergers and acquisitions, was put in charge of Multi-track. By October 2020 he was publicly admitting that the division was planning to “find a solution for all our businesses within the next two years” including cement plant engineering. In the same interview he described the Multi-track division as an internal private equity fund. However, the elevator business sale has been seen by several commentators as giving ThyssenKrupp more freedom around how to conduct its restructuring. Three months later and Handelsblatt, a German business newspaper, reported this week that ThyssenKrupp’s cement plant division may have avoided its multi-track fate. It cited internal communication to employees about what’s been happening with the sale. Principally, orders have picked up in the company’s new financial year, since October 2020, and although a sale has not been ruled out, it won’t be pursued until late 2021 at the earliest. This is potentially good news for the sector as a sign that the market may be improving and definitely good news for those employees working for the division.

As a competitor, FLSmidth would have been expected to be potentially interested in buying either ThyssenKrupp’s mining or cement plant division, or both. So, the only question was, when it made a point of saying publicly that it was in non-binding negotiations to buy mining, what about cement?

Looking at the numbers shows that FLSmidth’s mining division did better than its cement one in the first nine months of 2020 with order take up year-on-year and the mining industry described as being relatively resilient during the coronavirus crisis, with the majority of mines operational across regions. By contrast it pointed out that the cement market was still ‘severely’ impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and that future cement demand was dependent on general economic growth. Acquisition activity in mining certainly seems like the safer bet at the moment. Yet the temptation to neutralise a competitor may have been a strong one. With the mining deal still in progress and the cement sale possibly ended for now, we’ll just have to wait and see. Other buyers for both divisions are no doubt waiting in the wings should circumstances allow.

One final fun fact to consider is that the man put in charge of selling both of ThyssenKrupp’s mining and cement plant divisions, Volkmar Dinstuhl, just happens to be a World Chess Federation (FIDE) recognised International Master. Being good at chess doesn’t automatically confer skill at anything else. Just look at former world champion Gary Kasparov’s political ambitions in Russia for example. Yet, ThyssenKrupp’s elevator division sale has been seen as one of the largest leveraged European buyouts in recent years and has appeared to have bought it some time to mull its options over its cement plant division. With this in mind, any potential buyers for the rest of Multi-track may be wondering just how many moves ahead this seller is thinking.


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