Clariant says happy with ownership, weathering COVID hit

ZURICH (Reuters) - Clariant CLN.S Chairman Hariolf Kottmann is happy with the Swiss speciality chemical maker's shareholder structure, he said on Thursday, playing down a report the company could seek to dilute the control of Saudi investors.

The Tages-Anzeiger paper said this month Clariant was in talks with four potential partners -- with discussions with one group especially advanced -- in search of a “face-saving solution for the Saudis”.

Saudi Aramco 2222.SE owns a 31.5% Clariant stake it got when it acquired Saudi Basic Industries (SABIC) 2010.SE.

Kottmann told reporters he could not comment on rumours and newspaper headlines, but when asked if he was happy with the current ownership structure, he said:

“Absolutely, absolutely. As you may remember it was our initiative to ask SABIC to buy the share package owned by (activist investors) and it was always our strategic intention to have an anchor shareholder in addition to the Bavarian families, therefore our shareholder structure is a very positive one.”

Kottmann had to step in as interim CEO last year when former CEO Ernesto Occhiello quit suddenly. He said the company would decide on a new CEO within months.

Based on continuing operations, Clariant posted a first-half net profit of 75 million Swiss francs (63.34 million pounds) as sales fell 5% in local currency to 1.95 billion francs. Sales in the second quarter fell 4% to 926 million.

It said sales and profitability would suffer from the COVID-19 pandemic in the third quarter as well, but business was unlikely to contract sharply.

“Clariant’s three core speciality business areas are executing performance programmes to generate resilient results during these times and to achieve above-market growth, higher profitability and stronger cash generation in the mid-term,” it said.

Clariant is in the midst of a massive sell-off process that will divest businesses that made up one-third of sales.

Reporting by Michael Shields and John Miller, editing Uttaresh.V and Keith Weir