GERMANY: Schaeffler offers stake sale to prevent split
The family behind German bearings maker Schaeffler Group hopes to sell a stake to reduce the debt incurred buying Continental and prevent a "senseless" break-up.
Owners Maria-Elisabeth Schaeffler and son Georg Schaeffler insisted in a statement at the weekend the strategic alliance between Schaeffler and Continental combined Conti's electronic expertise with Schaeffler's mechanical skills to complement each other "ideally in order to bring together two German world market leaders in an alliance capable of playing a major role in developing the 'automobile of the future'.
"Therefore the response to this strategic alliance was, and still is, positive, especially among automobile manufacturers. We are still convinced that the years to come will prove how successful this alliance of Schaeffler and Continental can be," they said, denying that were "gamblers" who have speculated and lost.
"Our alliance with Continental has nothing at all to do with stock exchange speculation. We are no short term oriented financial investors, but rather entrepreneurs with long-term goals and concepts. We have brought Schaeffler and Continental together in order to create a new global supplier."
The two owners said they could "never have predicted the most dramatic and rapid breakdown of the global economy in the past 80 years".
The unexpected collapse of Lehman had shaken worldwide financial markets and this had resulted in 90% of Continental shares being offered to Schaeffler.
"The environment has changed dramatically for all companies and especially for those in the automotive industry," the Schaefflers said.
"Therefore we are seeking a joint and responsible solution together with the banks, with potential investors and with the help of politicians. Of course we are not simply looking for hand-outs. Since the wealth of the owners is firmly bound up in the company, the Schaeffler family is prepared to divest itself of part of this wealth and to pay its debts with the proceeds. Due to the difficult economic environment and the burden caused by the public discussion we have not yet succeeded in finding investors in spite of actively searching."
They expect to find investors by the time the economic situation has recovered, at the latest.
"Therefore the Schaeffler Group requires support for a limited period of time. Our talks with politicians are about securing interim financial aid in a special exceptional situation for a company that is sound at the core.
"The Schaeffler Group will present a viable concept to the federal government and the states. We are well aware that the viability of this concept will be scrutinised by the responsible public authorities to ensure that an interim financial aid package will not burden the taxpayers, and we realise that the [group] must pay the statutory interest and fees incurred.
"Our family has always re-invested the profits in the company instead of withdrawing them and using them for private purposes. The [group] has more than tripled the number of employees and its turnover since 1996.
"If it had been our goal simply to add to our personal wealth, we would not have invested in the further development of the [group] during the past 12 years and we would not have become involved with Continental."
According to Reuters, German economics minister Michael Glos, who represents an electoral district where a major Schaeffler subsidiary is based, told labour leaders at the company that he shared their concerns yet it was now unclear how much he could help after seeking to resign from his office on Saturday.
The news agency said the Schaeffler family statement seemed to leave the door open for whatever might be considered a prudent divestment, like the disposal of Continental's tyre and non-tyre rubber business.
"We will do everything in our power to prevent a senseless break-up driven by short-term interests," the two owners said.
Continental's former chief executive Manfred Wennemer - who resigned the day his company agreed to withdraw opposition to being owned by Schaeffler - had consistently opposed splitting up the group even after its EUR11bn acquisition of VDO.
Although Schaeffler repeatedly denied media reports it planned to sell off Continental's tyre business to finance the takeover, Wennemer's successor regrouped the company into its constituent automotive and rubber operations a month after the deal was reached with its new owner, Reuters noted.
Continental's supervisory board consequently approved the legal carve-out of an independent rubber group the same day that Schaeffler replaced unwanted chairman Hubertus von Gruenberg with their own representative and removed three other board members.
When asked if there were any short-term oriented plans to break up Continental that currently needed to be prevented, a spokesman for Schaeffler declined comment, the news agency report said.