Exclusive: Carlyle's Novolex in lead to acquire Newell Brands' Waddington - sources

(Reuters) - Novolex Holdings Inc, a packaging manufacturing company owned by buyout firm Carlyle Group LP CG.O, is in the lead to acquire Newell Brands Inc's NWL.N Waddington Group Inc unit for more than $2 billion, three people familiar with the matter said.

A deal for Waddington, which makes disposable cutlery and drinkware for the food service sector, would be the first major divestiture by Newell since it said in January it would explore options for several of its business lines, including Rubbermaid Commercial Products and Mapa.

Carlyle and Newell are finalizing deal terms after Novolex made the best offer in an auction for Waddington, and could reach an agreement in the next few days, the sources said on Wednesday, cautioning there was always a possibility that negotiations fall through at the last minute.

The sources asked not be identified because the matter is confidential. Carlyle and Newell declined to comment. Newell shares were up 0.5 percent at $27.19 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday, giving the company a market capitalization of more than $13 billion.

Newell, a U.S. consumer products company, ended a proxy fight with activist hedge fund Starboard Value LP last month, with the company agreeing to add three new directors to its board. Billionaire investor Carl Icahn agreed to give up two of the four seats he secured earlier this year to pave the way for the addition of two new independent directors.

Newell, the maker of Rubbermaid, Crock-Pot slow cookers and Yankee Candles, has underperformed peers following its $15.4 billion acquisition of Jarden Corp in 2016. Martin Franklin, a co-founder of Jarden, backed Starboard’s board challenge against Newell earlier this year, but he stood down after Icahn entered the fray.

In February, Newell outlined ongoing plans to overhaul itself from a hybrid holding-and-operating company to a more focused operator, with an increased emphasis on higher-margin and free-cash-flow operations such as online sales.

Newell is scheduled to report first-quarter earnings on Friday.

Reporting by Greg Roumeliotis and Harry Brumpton in New York; additional reporting by Joshua Franklin in New York; editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Jonathan Oatis