* Whirlpool offers 11 euros a share to buy 60.4 pct stake
* Will launch takeover bid for rest of Indesit
* Whirlpool keen to expand in Europe
* Indesit family had clashed over strategy-sources (Adds context, shares, analysts)
By Agnieszka Flak and Elisa Anzolin
MILAN, July 11 (Reuters) - Whirlpool, the world’s largest maker of home appliances, has agreed to pay 758 million euros ($1 billion) to buy a 60 percent stake in smaller Italian rival Indesit to further expand beyond its U.S. home market.
The deal is the latest in a string of buys by foreign players of Italian companies battling against the country’s longest recession in 70 years.
The acquisition of Indesit, which is a market leader in Italy, the United Kingdom and Russia, follows Whirlpool’s purchase of a majority stake in China’s Hefei Rongshida Sanyo Electric Co Ltd last year for $552 million.
Family-controlled Indesit, which produces washing machines, freezers and ovens, has been searching for eight-months for a buyer that would help it reduce its dependence on Italy and compete against cheaper products from eastern Europe and China.
The U.S. company has agreed to pay 11 euros a share in cash to the members of the Merloni family who control Indesit and will launch a bid for the rest of the company which is likely to be delisted after the buyout, according to sources.
Analysts said Europe, where growth in several countries is still very weak, is unlikely to boost Whirlpool’s sales near-term, but the purchase could offer cost synergies and help margins, which are lower than Indesit’s in the region.
Whirlpool says it is currently the fourth-biggest player in Europe, Middle East and Africa, where it made 16 percent of its $19 billion global sales last year.
“This will ideally position us for sustainable growth in the highly competitive and increasingly global home appliance market in Europe,” Jeff M. Fettig, Whirlpool’s CEO said in a statement.
The offer price represents a premium of 4.5 percent to Indesit’s close on Thursday. The stock rose as much as 3.5 percent on Friday on the back of the deal announcement.
The Merloni family began producing scales and other home appliances in the 1930s and in 1987, under the leadership of Vittorio Merloni, acquired the then bankrupt Indesit brand.
Under their ownership, Indesit expanded abroad, most notably into Russia. But it was never able to make a mark beyond Europe.
There have disagreements in the family over strategy for the company, sources close to the family have told Reuters.
The company posted a net loss in the first quarter, although it remains profitable at operating level.
The Merlonis had been exploring options for their stake since last year, while activist investor Amber has been pushing for a tie-up with a foreign investor to boost the company’s scope.
Sources close to the situation told Reuters last month that Electrolux and China’s Sichuan Chaghong Electric, were also interested in the Italian company.
But hours after the deal was announced, workers from the left-leaning FIOM union expressed concerns.
“It is absolutely necessary that the government ... responds immediately to a request for a meeting (with the unions) ... and acts to avoid any negative impact on plants and jobs,” union leader Alessandro Pagano said in a statement.
Swedish rival Electrolux, the world’s No.2 white goods maker, has plants in Italy and has been negotiating for months with workers and Rome to avoid shutting factories.
Indesit has eight industrial sites in Italy, Poland the United Kingdom, Russia and Turkey and employs 16,000 workers. The Group’s main brands are Indesit, Hotpoint and Scholtes.
The combined 60.4 percent stake that Whirlpool is taking over from the Merloni family represents a 66.8 percent voting stake in the firm due to treasury shares held by Indesit.
Whirlpool said it plans to finance the deal, which it expects to close by year end, through existing cash and debt. ($1 = 0.7345 Euros) (Editing by Lisa Jucca and Elaine Hardcastle)