K+S shortlists billionaire, private equity for Morton Salt sale: sources

BOSTON/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - German minerals miner K+S SDFGn.DE has shortlisted hedge fund billionaire James Simons' family office as well as private equity firms for a sale of its $2 billion Morton Salt business, people familiar with the matter said.

K+S’s salt business, the world’s largest salt supplier and owner of the Morton Salt brand, was put up for sale as part of efforts by the German company to reduce debt that had soared after an investment in a new potash mine in Canada.

Meritage Group LP, an investment firm for the family of famed hedge fund investor James Simons of Renaissance Technologies, has partnered with U.S. salt producer Kissner for its bid, the people said. Kissner is owned by buyout group Stone Canyon Industries, which bought Kissner for $2 billion in April.

Private equity investors Advent International, American Securities and Cerberus Capital Management also made it to the second round of the bidding, they added.

K+S reiterated on Tuesday that it is aiming to sign a deal before year end. Advent and American Securities declined to comment, while the other the bidders had no immediate comment. The sources requested anonymity to discuss the deal.

The group’s net debt, which stood at 3.1 billion euros or 4.9 times core earnings (EBITDA) at the end of 2019, stems mainly from the 3 billion euros spent on the Bethune potash mine in Canada.

In March, Chief Executive Officer Burkhard Lohr said K+S would sell the salt business to reduce debt, which would allow debt to come down by more than 2 billion euros when combined with restructuring measures.

After the sale, K+S plans to focus on its core fertiliser business and speciality products with the Bethune potash mine in Canada as one of its core assets.

Additional reporting by Patricia Weiss; Editing by Tom Sims and Jane Merriman