5 Min Read
* ThyssenKrupp says in exclusive talks to sell U.S. plant
* Sources say talks are with ArcelorMittal, Nippon Steel
* Company reaches rail cartel settlement in principle
* ThyssenKrupp pushes back results to Dec. 2 from Nov. 21
* Shares fall 2 pct
By Maria Sheahan and Arno Schuetze
FRANKFURT, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Germany's ThyssenKrupp is nearing a long-awaited sale of its U.S. steel plant and has reached an agreement to settle a cartel lawsuit, clearing the way for it to raise much-needed capital.
Shares in Germany's biggest steelmaker fell 2 percent, however, as it became clear that the deal would not include the company's lossmaking Brazilian factory.
ThyssenKrupp has been trying for more than a year and a half to find a buyer for Steel Americas - comprised of the U.S. plant and the steel mill in Brazil - which has drained cash from the company for the past few years.
The deal comes as the United States experiences a phase of re-industrialisation as low power prices encourage manufacturers to boost output.
But the problems at Steel Americas run deeper than the price of energy. The operation has suffered because it underestimated the cost of supplying the Alabama plant with steel slabs from Brazil, blaming operational problems, an appreciation of Brazil's real currency and rising labour costs.
ThyssenKrupp said late on Tuesday it was pushing back the publication of its annual financial results to Dec. 2 from Nov. 21 as the U.S. sale talks had entered the home stretch.
Early on Wednesday, it said it had agreed in principle to pay German state-owned railway Deutsche Bahn damages for its role in a rail cartel, and that existing provisions in its accounts should cover the cost.
"ThyssenKrupp is slowly moving in the right direction," said Jefferies analyst Seth Rosenfeld.
Finding a solution to its problems in the Americas and settling the cartel issue would represent a major boost for ThyssenKrupp Chief Executive Heinrich Hiesinger, who has struggled to resolve lingering problems at Germany's biggest steelmaker since taking the helm in early 2011.
Hiesinger has been trying to shift ThyssenKrupp away from the volatile steel business into higher-margin products and services such as elevators, submarines and factory components.
Three people familiar with the matter told Reuters that ThyssenKrupp was in exclusive talks to sell the plant in Calvert, Alabama to a consortium of ArcelorMittal and Nippon Steel. One of the sources said that the bidders were likely to pay $1.5 billion for the business.
"They are close to a solution. An agreement is possible in the next week or two," one of the people told Reuters on Wednesday.
ArcelorMittal reiterated that it remained interested in the plant, while Nippon Steel declined to comment.
Shares in ThyssenKrupp were down 2.3 percent at 18.955 euros by 1110 GMT, making it the biggest decliner on Germany's blue-chip DAX index, which was 0.1 percent lower. ArcelorMittal was 0.2 percent higher at 12.52 euros.
"This looks slightly negative for ThyssenKrupp because it is ... keeping the problem (of Brazil). Also, a capital increase should be imminent," MM Warburg analyst Bjoern Voss said.
Analysts have said a partial sale of Steel Americas would be better than no sale at all, though it would be a disappointment if the Brazil plant remains on ThyssenKrupp's books.
ThyssenKrupp owns 73 percent of the operation while Brazil-based iron ore miner Vale holds the rest.
For ArcelorMittal, the world's biggest steelmaker, buying the Calvert plant would make sense, analysts say, as it could supply it with steel slabs from its rolling mill in Mexico, with lower transport costs than those incurred by ThyssenKrupp for shipments from Brazil.
ArcelorMittal could put the Mexican mill in a joint venture with Nippon Steel, thereby lowering the amount of cash it has to contribute in a joint deal to buy the Calvert plant, analysts at Nomura said earlier this month.
The book value of Steel Americas as a whole has shrunk to 3.3 billion euros from more than 7 billion euros, and analysts have said a sale of the U.S. plant alone could bring in proceeds of between $1.5 billion to $2 billion.
ThyssenKrupp is expected to need another writedown on Steel Americas following the deal.
It has already asked banks to waive loan covenants to avoid losing a 2.5 billion euro credit line at the end of September and said it would not rule out a capital increase once Steel Americas and unresolved compliance issues had been dealt with.
Three bankers familiar with the matter told Reuters that ThyssenKrupp is already stepping up preparations to raise its capital by 10 percent in the short term.
"As this move has been widely expected, Thyssen should be able to sell the new shares at a small discount, of maybe around 5 percent", one of the sources said.