Clariant CEO plays down speculation of plastics unit sale

18 February 2017

Clariant's Chief Executive Hariolf Kottmann has doused speculation the Swiss speciality chemical maker could soon unload its plastics and coatings business and use the proceeds to buy a big, faster-growing target.

Kottman spun off the business, Clariant's largest with $2.5 billion in annual sales, into a separate subsidiary in 2015, fuelling speculation about a potential sale despite assurances that nothing would happen for at least three to five years.

Kottmann told reporters on Thursday he was not considering a transformative deal involving the unit, concentrating instead on smaller bolt-on acquisitions similar to oil industry deals the company made in Texas last year for a combined 366 million Swiss francs ($365 million).

"We have currently no project for divesting plastics and coatings and making a multi-billion Swiss franc acquisition," Kottmann said at a Zurich analysts' conference after Clariant reported full-year results.

With the chemicals sector being transformed by megadeals including Bayer's $66 billion purchase of Monsanto and ChemChina's $43 billion takeover of Switzerland's Syngenta, Kottmann has often found himself defending Clariant's independence.

In April, he said Clariant was a hunter, not prey.

While last September's Texas deals quenched Clariant's thirst for oil services assets, Kottmann acknowledged scouting additional North American targets that could strengthen the Care Chemicals business, which makes ingredients for hair care, cosmetics and lotions.

China accounted for just 8 percent of Clariant's total revenues of 5.85 billion francs in 2016, and Kottmann said that was insufficient.

Consequently, Clariant has begun revamping its Chinese business to focus on supplying more homegrown consumer goods producers, or "local champions", which he said are wresting business from multinationals.

The new structure foresees, among other things, Clariant employees increasingly embedded at customers' operations for weeks or months, an arrangement Kottmann said is unheard of in the West.

"If you don't have this customer closeness in China, you will never sell a single kilogramme of your product," he said. "We strongly believe Clariant's future will be decided in Asia, specifically China."