Doubts mount over Thyssenkrupp's future strategy

DUESSELDORF, Germany/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Investors on Friday expressed concerns over whether Thyssenkrupp TKAG.DE can come up with a working strategy for its struggling businesses following the sale of its most profitable division, elevators, for 17.2 billion euros ($18.7 billion).

FILE PHOTO: ThyssenKrupp AG Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Martina Merz is seen during the annual news conference of Thyssenkrupp at the company's headquarters in Essen, Germany, November 21, 2019. REUTERS/Leon Kuegeler

The landmark sale, announced a day earlier, will leave the stricken conglomerate with a bunch of underperforming or loss-making units in need of restructuring, including plant building, car parts, steel, submarines and materials trading.

“Shareholders want to know the concrete changes Thyssenkrupp plans to make in the individual divisions,” said Marc Tuengler of DSW, a lobby group that represents Thyssenkrupp’s private shareholders.

“What is needed is a very granular plan to make sure progress can be measured. Every day that goes by without it is a lost day.”

Thyssenkrupp CEO Martina Merz, in a call with journalists, confirmed plans to set out in May how funds from the elevator sale will be used, apart from cutting debt and pension liabilities, which jointly stand at around 16 billion euros.

“We do not like selling this division. But it is the best solution,” Merz, who will return to the supervisory board in October, said, declining to answer which businesses will remain a core part of the conglomerate.

Thyssenkrupp late on Thursday agreed to sell elevators to a consortium of Advent, Cinven [CINV.UL] and Germany’s RAG foundation, in a deal that analyst said fetched an impressive price.

Shares initially rose as much as 4% on the deal, but then fell by more than 7% to their lowest level since April 22, 2003, along with other stocks over concerns related to the spread of the coronavirus as well as uncertainty over the group’s future.

The group is looking for partners for its Steel Europe division as well as buyers for its plant building activities, two loss-making activities that will no longer have the benefit from being cross-subsidised by elevator.

The sale of its Plant Technology business has been started but will not result in a deal this year, CFO Johannes Dietsch said.

Without its elevator division, which is the world’s fourth-largest lift maker, Thyssenkrupp would have made an adjusted operating loss of 105 million euros last year, as opposed to a profit of 802 million.

“It is far from secure that high investments into the reorganisation of Steel Europe and the remaining business areas will be successful,” Baader Bank analyst Christian Obst said in a note.

Writing by Christoph Steitz; Editing by Thomas Seythal and Louise Heavens