Liberty, Thyssen Steel Talks Set to Advance to Due Diligence

Liberty Steel’s talks about a potential acquisition of Thyssenkrupp AG’s steel business are poised to advance, according to people familiar with the matter.

Liberty, backed by commodity trader-turned-serial dealmaker Sanjeev Gupta, could receive access to the books of the German industrial group’s steel business in the coming weeks, the people said. No final decisions have been made and there could be delays, they said, asking not to be identified because negotiations are private.

If due diligence is given, it would signal a step forward after Gupta announced a non-binding offer for Thyssenkrupp’s steel business more than a month ago. That led to a surge in Thyssenkrupp’s shares on optimism of a solution for the long-time ailing business. But questions remain about the value, structure, funding and viability of Liberty’s bid and rival steelmakers including Sweden’s SSAB AB remain interested in a combination, the people said.

Reuters reported earlier Wednesday that Thyssenkrupp could open its books to Liberty as soon as next week, citing unidentified people. Representatives for Liberty and Thyssenkrupp declined to comment.

Once synonymous with German industrial prowess, Thyssenkrupp is fighting for survival and has been holding preliminary talks about government aid. The Covid-19 pandemic has intensified deep-seated structural issues at the company, which still employs more than 100,000 people. Its steel division faces severe problems, with profitability hammered by yawning pension deficits and cheap imports from Asia.

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Steel producers in Europe more broadly are under pressure to consolidate amid global overcapacity. Thyssenkrupp has held discussions with Liberty, SSAB, domestic rival Salzgitter AG and Tata Steel Ltd. of India, Bloomberg News reported in October. SSAB has engaged in separate talks with Tata Steel about asset purchases, though its preferred deal would be with Thyssenkrupp, people familiar with the matter have previously said.

There are divisions among Thyssenkrupp’s management and unions on the best partner for the company, the people said.

Liberty jumped to the fore by tabling the first offer and promising to move capacity to Thyssenkrupp’s Duisburg plant from its current supplier, ArcelorMittal, two people said. Some union representatives favor a deal with SSAB, which they view as a more transparent and reliable company that wants access to Germany’s automotive market, according to another person.

However, SSAB may shift some steel capacity to Scandinavia and away from Germany, which could hurt its pursuit, people said. A representative for SSAB said the company isn’t in a bidding process with Thyssenkrupp, declining to comment further.

Liberty Steel is part of GFG Alliance Ltd., a loose structure of companies owned by members of Gupta’s family. It has drawn the spotlight for its rate of expansion in the past five years. GFG has also faced scrutiny for the opaque structure of its business and heavy reliance on financing from banker Lex Greensill’s eponymous firm.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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