May 10, 2013 / 5:47 PM / in 5 years

Finland's Outokumpu given more time to sell Italian steel plant

* Aperam could lose interest if EU imposes assets sale

* Commission deadline extended to end-June - sources

By Silvia Antonioli

LONDON, May 10 (Reuters) - The European Commission has given Finnish stainless steel maker Outokumpu more time to sell its Italian plant Acciai Speciali Terni (AST), the company said on Friday.

Selling the Terni steel plant, one of Europe’s biggest and most modern, is a condition for Outokumpu to gain approval from the EU competition authority for the acquisition of Inoxum, ThyssenKrupp’s stainless steel arm.

The Finnish steel producer asked for the extension to the May 7 deadline because it was not satisfied with the number of bids it received and the price offered, three sources said.

The Terni site, valued by one analyst at up to $1 billion about a year ago, has lost much of its value because of a steep deterioration of economic and market conditions in Europe.

In Outokumpu’s books it now has a value of 560 million euros ($726 million) but is expected to sell for less, given the time pressure Outokumpu is under if it wants to go ahead with the Inoxum acquisition.

Outokumpu declined to say how much more time it has been granted, but sources said the Commission gave it until the end of June.

A Commission spokesman declined to give an immediate comment.

U.S. private equity fund Apollo and a consortium led by Luxembourg-based steelmaker Aperam, with Italian steel companies Arvedi and Marcegaglia, placed binding bids for AST late last month.

Chinese steelmaker Tsingshan, meanwhile, placed a non-binding bid.

CONSORTIUM FAVOURITE

“I don’t think an extra two months or so will change the situation much. All the parties interested in this company have already come forward,” a source close to the company said.

The Terni plant has much bigger capacity for hot-rolled steel, a semi-finished product, than for finished cold-rolled steel.

The Aperam consortium would be a better match for the plant, market experts say, because the three steelmakers in the consortium could use their own plants to process the extra hot-rolled steel produced in Terni.

“Terni as a standalone plant has a big imbalance between hot-rolled and cold-rolled products and it needs economies of scale. So I don’t see any future for the plant if not with another European producer,” Marcegaglia CEO Antonio Marcegaglia said.

Arvedi and Marcegaglia would each have a 10 percent share in the Terni plant, with the option to increase their stakes to 20 percent should the consortium’s bid succeed, sources said.

However, an intervention of the EU competition authority could put the consortium bid at risk.

Aperam would no longer be interested in pursuing the acquisition should the EU impose heavy conditions, such as the sale of other plants, an Aperam spokesman said. ($1 = 0.7709 euros) (Editing by David Goodman)

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