UPDATE 1-Lanxess to ease debt load before pursuing any deals

Wed Sep 18, 2013 9:29am EDT

* Net debt to adj EBITDA to exceed 2 this yr, target 1-1.5

* CFO says no takeover deals before debt target is reached

* Shares down 2.5 pct on gloomy automotive outlook (Adds CEO comment, shares, analyst comment, background)

By Ludwig Burger

COLOGNE, Germany, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Lanxess, the world's market leader in synthetic rubber, will focus on cutting its debts before looking at any acquisitions to diversify away from its volatile auto business.

The company had said late on Tuesday that as part of an overhaul including job cuts and potential asset sales it would also look into takeovers in the medium term to ease its dependence on the automobile sector.

But Lanxess finance chief Bernhard Duettmann said the group's borrowings were too high and needed to come down before any acquisitions could happen.

Net debt as a multiple of EBITDA (adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation) would be "well above two" in 2013, Duettmann said on the sidelines of a press conference on Wednesday.

He said the ratio needed to drop to between 1 and 1.5 in the medium term.

"Priority one is dealing with our existing business. Priority two is carrying out our investment projects for organic growth. We've said any acquisitions would be medium to long-term projects," Duettmann said.

StarMine data shows Lanxess's debt stands at 77 percent of its equity capital, higher than the average 44 percent among its European chemicals peers.

Lanxess also said on Wednesday it was considering selling three divisions as part of its overhaul - its Perlon-Monofil fibres business, its accelerators and antioxidants rubber chemicals business as well as its nitrile butadiene rubber operations.

The group currently depends on demand from makers of tyres, door sealants, windscreen wipers and tubes for about 40 percent of its business.

THINKING TWICE

Automotive forecasters are tentatively expecting European auto demand to bottom out after what is set to be a sixth straight year of declines, but car sales in the region fell 4.9 percent last month.

"People are thinking twice whether to buy a new car, a new set of tyres or whether to drive at all. These are all negative factors impacting our business," said Chief Executive Axel Heitmann.

Even though he described the slump as temporary, there were no signs of the mood brightening.

Heitmann highlighted the company's crop protection intermediates as a unit that deserves a bigger role within the group.

"We are the work bench, we are the chemists for the crop protection industry. They develop active ingredients, we produce for them. We are the No.1 address they turn to," he said.

Even though the market segment expands at slightly below the 3 percent multi-year average of the car industry, demand growth in pesticide ingredients is much more stable, he added.

Shares in the company, whose former parent company Bayer invented synthetic rubber, lost 2.5 percent by 1144 GMT while the European chemicals benchmark gained 0.5 percent.

"Restructuring measures (planned by the company) are on the positive side but obviously confirm that there are no signs of an improvement in the key markets anticipated by the company from 2014 on," Equinet Bank analyst Nadeshda Demidova wrote in a note to investors. (Editing by David Holmes)

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