ChemChina gave up Pirelli control to show its market friendly face: Pirelli CEO

MILAN (Reuters) - State-owned China National Chemical Corp (ChemChina) will give up control of Pirelli as part of the Italian tyremaker’s return to the bourse to show Beijing has a market friendly approach to investments in Europe, Pirelli’s chief executive said on Monday.

Formula One - F1 - Russian Grand Prix - Sochi, Russia - 29/04/17 - Pirelli tyres on display in paddock area. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

ChemChina took over Pirelli two years ago by taking a 65 percent stake in the holding company controlling the maker of Ferrari racing tyres, which was then de-listed from the Milan bourse.

The world’s fifth-largest tyre maker is now coming back on the market with an initial public offer of up to 40 percent of its capital, and the Chinese will have between 45 and 46.7 percent after the sale.

Pirelli has long said the Chinese had a hands-off attitude to the company’s management, but their reducing the stake below 50 percent comes at a time of growing wariness over Chinese investments in Europe.

Last week, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker proposed limits to China’s ability to buy up companies in infrastructure, hi-tech manufacturing and energy.

ChemChina Chairman Ren Jianxin was recently confirmed as Pirelli’s chairman and there is a strong Chinese presence on the board, but a set of bylaws was agreed to protect Pirelli’s technological know-how and governance.

“They (ChemChina) agreed to all the conditions that we put forward on the governance front,” Pirelli CEO Marco Tronchetti Provera told reporters as the IPO officially kicked off.

“They wanted to show that their investment is a financial one and respects the autonomy and responsibility of the management, and above all respects the minorities.”

Established in 1872 and one of Italy’s best-known corporate names, Pirelli is expected to start trading on the Milan stock market - where it had traded since 1922 before the de-listing - on Oct. 4.

Its IPO price range values Pirelli at between 6.3 billion and 8.3 billion euros - a tad lower than core shareholders had hoped for. Pirelli seeks to raise up to 3.3 billion euros in the IPO, which would make it the second-biggest in Europe this year.

The relisting will test demand for a streamlined firm that focuses on high-end consumer tyres for upmarket brands such as Mercedes, Audi and BMW after its less profitable truck and industrial tyre business was folded into a unit of ChemChina.

With high-value products expected to account for about 63 percent of revenue by the end of 2020, Pirelli aims to market itself as a top-end industrial player.

But while the valuation being sought puts Pirelli above Michelin MICP.PA and Continental CONG.DE, it falls short of the industry's most highly valued manufacturer, Finland's Nokian NRE1V.HE.

Pirelli had expected to list in the first half of 2018 but brought forward the plans due to favorable market conditions, reaching an investment grade rating earlier than expected and after executing a series of steps to cut debt.

Camfin, the holding company of Tronchetti Provera and banks UniCredit CRDI.MI and Intesa Sanpaolo ISP.MI, will see their stake of around 22 percent cut to between 10 and 12 percent after the IPO.

Investment fund LTI, linked to Rosneft, will have between 5 and 6.6 percent. LTI has a lock-up period of 180 days after the IPO, shorter than the other two core shareholders, and there has been strong market speculation that it might sell out after that.

However, Tronchetti Provera said on Monday that none of the main investors had expressed a willingness to sell.

Pirelli will be included on a newly created bourse index dedicated to key Italian lifestyle companies, which will also feature Ferrari RACE.MI and drinks maker Campari CPRI.MI.

Asked about his own succession, Tronchetti Provera said he already had “an envelope with a name” of who might follow him, adding the person would come from his current team.

The 69-year-old executive ruled out extending his own mandate past 2020, saying being in his early 70s was “the right age to watch future developments from the outside”.

(The story has been refiled to fix typo in paragraph 4)

Additional reporting by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Adrian Croft