Thyssenkrupp shares plunge as new CEO paints bleak picture

ESSEN, Germany (Reuters) - Thyssenkrupp's TKAG.DE new boss scrapped the German industrial group's dividend, warned of deeper losses and asked investors for yet more patience over its turnaround, sending shares in the conglomerate down as much as 14.5% on Thursday.

The moves immediately turned up the pressure on Martina Merz, who served as chairwoman before taking over as CEO, to quickly sell the company’s elevators business - a prize asset it has put on the block to try to mend its finances.

After four profit warnings and two failed attempts to restructure since July 2018, Thyssenkrupp is also aiming to slash 6,000 jobs and looking for new owners of businesses where it is clear it cannot catch up with rivals.

“I ask you to be patient,” Merz said in an investor call following results for the year to Sept. 30, which showed net losses widening to 304 million euros ($337 million) from 62 million a year earlier.

“We will not leave any stone unturned,” she added, warning any restructuring would need 2-3 years to fully take effect and pouring cold water on hopes for a quicker turnaround. The group’s net loss is expected to widen again this fiscal year.

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At 1425 GMT, Thyssenkrupp shares, which dropped out of Germany's DAX 30 index .GDAXI in September, were down 13.3% at 11.71 euros. They earlier touched an 11-week low of 11.54 euros.

Merz, who was appointed CEO last month for 12 months in an emergency move, said talks with investors, executives and employees had convinced her the steel-to-submarines group required substantial change.

“Some of what I’ve seen and heard has been sobering. We lag far behind our ambitions in many areas,” she said.

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Thyssenkrupp’s adjusted earnings before interest and tax tumbled 44% to 802 million euros and the company said it expected a similar level for 2019/20.

It reported negative free cash flow before mergers and acquisitions of 1.1 billion euros in 2018/19 and warned that would get worse this financial year.

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“Thyssenkrupp needs to focus on the comprehensive and sustainable restructuring of the business areas, in the interest of safeguarding the future of the company,” said Michael Muders of Union Investment, a top-10 shareholder.

The conglomerate, whose activities include making car parts building fertilizer plants, proposed scrapping its dividend for the first time in six years, a move backed by top investor, the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation.

Hopes of easing pressure on the company’s balance sheet now lie with efforts to sell the elevator business, which could be valued at up to 17 billion euros.

Thyssenkrupp, which had net financial debt of 3.7 billion euros and pension liabilities of 8.7 billion at the end of September, said it expected binding bids for the unit next year.

(For an interactive graphic on elevator margin comparisons click: here )

In addition, management flagged further layoffs, which are certain to draw opposition from labor representatives, a powerful stakeholder group that controls half of Thyssenkrupp’s 20-member supervisory board.

“The fact that we as labor representatives aren’t denying there is a need for restructuring does not mean that this is a shooting range,” Dirk Sievers, head of Thyssenkrupp’s works council and a member of the supervisory board, said.

Editing by Jason Neely and Mark Potter