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China's Midea buys stake in Germany's Kuka for US$1.3b

Monday, July 4, 2016 - 11:28
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China's Midea Group will become the largest shareholder of Kuka AG after buying a 25.1 per cent stake in the robot-making company from Voith GmbH as part of a deal that has been closely scrutinised by German politicians.

[FRANKFURT] China's Midea Group will become the largest shareholder of Kuka AG after buying a 25.1 per cent stake in the robot-making company from Voith GmbH as part of a deal that has been closely scrutinised by German politicians.

Voith will get about 1.2 billion euros (S$1.8 billion) by selling its stake, the closely held German company said Sunday in a statement from Heidenheim, Germany. Kuka Chief Executive Officer Till Reuter backed the deal after Midea offered assurances that jobs and plants will be protected until the end of 2023.

The prospect of Kuka being partly owned by a Chinese buyer triggered concerns from leading politicians in Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, with Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel leading a charge to find an alternative bid from a European suitor, a foray that so far failed to produce any offers.

The offer from Midea, China's biggest appliance manufacturer, is open for four weeks from when it was published June 16.

BEAT TARGET

Midea, which said on May 18 it had a 13.5 per cent stake in Kuka, is offering 115 euros a share for Kuka, contingent on it being able to increase its stake to at least 30 per cent, the Foshan, China-based company said last month. It has pledged to help the company beat a 2020 sales target by expanding its product offerings to take advantage of the Chinese market as well as expanding into household robots.

Midea rose 0.9 per cent to 24.3 yuan as of 9.48am in Shenzhen trading on Monday. The shares have jumped 13 per cent since June 1, when they resumed trading. Kuka is up 26 per cent since the deal with Midea was announced May 18, and last traded at 106.65 euros per share in Germany.

Midea wants to transform its manufacturing line with robot technology and is aiming to cut its workforce by a fifth by 2018 to 80,000, Midea Chairman Paul Fang said in an interview in May.

The company already has 100 Kuka robots in its factories. With US$10.7 billion in free cash, Midea could do more acquisitions, although it intends to focus on expanding its brand in Europe and America, Mr Fang said.

DIMINISHING RESISTANCE

Commerzbank AG analysts have said they expect the deal to go through and that Midea's commitments on jobs and plants mean previous political resistance to the transaction should diminish. The deal is attractive for Kuka shareholders and there's limited risk that antitrust authorities will block the deal, according to Societe Generale SA.

Voith, among the biggest family owned businesses in Europe, acquired its Kuka stake in late 2014 for less than half the amount it expects to receive. The German company said at the time that it wanted to take advantage of the trend toward increased industrial automation.

The funds will "give us flexibility for investments in organic growth as well as attractive acquisitions," Hubert Lienhard, Voith's CEO, said in the statement.

BLOOMBERG

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