Linde-Praxair deal clears final hurdle with U.S. antitrust nod

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Industrial gases groups Praxair and Linde won U.S. antitrust approval for their $86 billion merger on Monday, clearing the last hurdle for the deal in the nick of time.

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The all-share merger of equals will create an industry leader with revenues of about $27 billion based on 2017 figures, and 80,000 employees across more than 100 countries, which will be called Linde plc.

That will make it bigger than France’s Air Liquide, which had also bulked up with the takeover of rival Airgas.

Shares in Linde jumped 4 percent, while Praxair shares were up 2.4 percent at 1335 GMT.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission said on Monday that the companies would have to divest assets in nine industrial gases product markets in United States as part of a settlement that resolves antitrust charges.

The companies had been up against a Wednesday deadline to complete the deal under German financial market rules, almost two years after agreeing the deal in principle in December 2016.

Under a finely balanced power-sharing agreement, the new company will be registered in Dublin, board meetings will be held in London, and operating headquarters will be in both Munich and Danbury, Connecticut, with Chief Executive Steve Angel and finance chief Matt White based in the latter.

Shares will be listed in both New York and Frankfurt.

Linde said last week it had agreed with FTC staff on remedies to secure approval but that the package was still under review by FTC’s top-level commissioners.

All other relevant competition authorities have previously given the green light, including the European Commission, which was won over by a deal to sell Praxair’s European gases business to Japanese rival Taiyo Nippon Sanso Corp.

Also on Monday, the EU signed off on Taiyo Nippon Sanso as a suitable buyer.

Linde lined up a consortium of gases firm Messer and investor CVC [CVC.UL] in July as a buyer of its North and South American assets to allay U.S. antitrust concerns, but talks with the FTC later hit a snag, requiring more asset sales.

The companies have until Jan. 29 next year to complete certain divestitures in the United States, and need to remain separate and independent companies until the majority of these deals are wrapped up, Linde added.

Reporting by Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt and Rishika Chatterjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Maria Sheahan