JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's Sasol SOLJ.J said on Friday chemical company LyondellBasell Industries LYB.N had agreed to acquire a 50% stake in a unit of its U.S-based business for $2 billion, helping the petrochemicals firm to cut debt.
As part of the agreement, the two companies will form a 50/50 joint venture which will take over the base chemicals business at Lake Charles. LyondellBasell will be the operator of the new JV firm, Sasol said.
The Lake Charles project consists of seven manufacturing units for products used in cleaning, detergents and cosmetics.
Sasol said it will retain full ownership of the U.S performance chemicals business as well as the original ethane cracker.
“The transaction will represent a significant step towards achieving Sasol’s strategic and financial objectives by materially reducing net debt,” the company said.
The world’s top manufacturer of motor fuel from coal has been battling high debt amid lower oil and chemicals prices, prompting it to search for a partner at the Louisiana-based plant and propose a rights issue of up to $2 billion in 2021.
The company’s total debt stood at 189.7 billion rand ($11.35 billion) for the year to June 30, exacerbated by years of delay and cost overruns of around $4 billion compared to early estimates in building LCCP (Lake Charles Chemical Project), prompting the resignations of its joint chief executives in 2019.
“(The company) is swinging more to an improved balance sheet,” said Sasol’s Chief Financial Officer Paul Victor during a conference call.
Its shares, however, fluctuated between positive and negative territories through the day. They were trading down almost 7% at 1400 GMT after gaining around 3% post announcement.
A 4% drop in oil prices also weighed on the stock.
“The market had a perception that if they could get a deal with Lake Charles they wouldn’t need a rights issue but ... looks like they still have too much debt,” said Greg Davies, trader at Cratos Capital.
The value of the assets was $3.9 billion and recorded a loss of $2.3 billion for the year ended June 30, Sasol said.
Sasol said it expected the transaction, subject to shareholder approval, to be completed before the end of the year.
($1 = 16.7146 rand)
Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg; Editing by Shri Navaratnam, Kirsten Donovan and David Evans
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