Buffett-backed Axalta Coating Systems to explore a sale

(This version of the June 19 story corrects to show investigation was by external counsel in paragraph 5)

(Reuters) - Axalta Coating Systems Ltd, the U.S. coatings company whose largest shareholder is Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc, said on Wednesday it had formed a board committee to explore a sale of the company.

The move was driven by the company’s desire to proactively stay on top of a wave of consolidation sweeping the paints and coatings industry, according to people familiar with the matter who requested anonymity to discuss confidential deliberations.

Axalta shares jumped 14 percent on the news to $29.52 a share, giving the company a market capitalization of about $7 billion.

Axalta rebuffed acquisition approaches in 2017 from Akzo Nobel NV and Nippon Paint Holdings Co Ltd. Since then, the company has lost about a fifth of its market value, even though the S&P 500 Index has risen more than 9 percent during the same period, as demand in Axalta’s key automotive market weakened.

Axalta also got new management in December, after an investigation of previous Chief Executive Officer Terrence Hahn’s conduct by external counsel that Axalta characterized as “inconsistent with the company’s policies.” Axalta never disclosed the investigation’s findings. Hahn was replaced with the company’s chief financial officer, Robert Bryant.

Axalta, a former division of DuPont, said its board had formed a strategic review committee to be chaired by the independent presiding director Mark Garrett, and include Bryant and independent director Samuel Smolik. There is no certainty of any deal, Axalta cautioned.

The Philadelphia-based company also said it has hired Evercore and Barclays as financial advisers to assist in the review.

Axalta’s coatings are used in the refinishing of cars, buildings and pipelines. Its corporate peers include Sherwin-Williams Co, Akzo Nobel, PPG Industries Inc, BASF SE and RPM International Inc.

PPG is currently on an acquisition spree, snapping up smaller coatings companies, while paints maker Akzo Nobel last year decided to focus on its core business by selling its specialty chemicals division Nouryon to buyout firm Carlyle Group LP and Singaporean wealth fund GIC.

Additional reporting by Debroop Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Jonathan Oatis