Total to Solvay Pursue Chemical Divestments as M&A Returns

European companies from Total SA to Solvay SA are pursuing divestments of chemical businesses, in one of the first tentative signs that mergers and acquisitions are starting to return in the region.

Total is considering a sale of its Cray Valley chemical-additives unit, which could fetch about $300 million to $500 million, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The French energy company has been speaking with potential advisers about a divestment, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private.

Arkema SA has separately started gauging interest in its plexiglass business, which could fetch about 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) for the French chemical producer, people familiar with the matter said. The company has sent potential bidders so-called teaser documents with an overview of the Altuglas International division, according to the people.

Companies have been seeking to offload peripheral businesses in a bid to boost returns and fend off criticism from activist investors. Carveouts by European companies hit a record last year and could rise further in 2020 as firms seek to weather the after-effects of the coronavirus pandemic, a top Credit Suisse Group AG dealmaker said last week.

Streamlining Operations

Some chemical producers have been able to ride through the crisis relatively unscathed, particularly those making products like cleaning solvents and protective sheets which are seeing increased sales. A gauge of European chemical companies has risen 1.8% over the past 12 months, bucking the 5.4% decline in the Stoxx Europe 600 Index.

Solvay SA is also exploring a sale of two units as Chief Executive Officer Ilham Kadri pushes ahead with efforts to streamline the Belgian chemical maker, people with knowledge of the matter said. The potential divestments include a unit that works with the compound strontium carbonate, which could fetch around 150 million euros, and another making chemicals used in shampoo and dishwashing products, the people said.

The volume of dealmaking globally has fallen 47% this year to $991 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Some shelved deal processes have been revived in recent weeks, with Bridgepoint preparing to restart a bidding process for Iberian agrochemical business Rovensa, Bloomberg News reported this month.

Sasol Sale

Arkema’s Altuglas sale is attracting initial interest from private equity firms including Advent International, Rhone, SK Capital Partners and Triton Partners, the people said. The business produces polymethyl methacrylate-based plastics, which are used in car parts like headlights as well as building materials. Colombes, France-based Arkema hasn’t decided when to seek first-round bids and could wait until after summer to formally solicit offers, one of the people said.

Beyond Europe, Sasol Ltd. is attracting interest in a large stake it’s selling in the Lake Charles chemical complex in the U.S. The South African company has received offers from Ineos Group Ltd., Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. and LyondellBasell Industries NV for the holding, which could fetch more than $2 billion, people familiar with the matter said earlier this month.

All the companies’ deliberations are at an early stage, and there’s no certainty the suitors will submit bids, the people said.

Representatives for Total, Arkema, Advent, Rhone, SK and Triton declined to comment. A spokesman for Solvay said the chemical group has a clear plan to unlock value and regularly receives approaches, particularly after last year’s strategy update. He declined to comment further. A spokesman for Sasol said the firm’s asset disposal process had yielded “good interest from strong contenders.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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