ThyssenKrupp AG announced a dramatic U-turn in corporate strategy, saying it will take its elevator business public and abandon a plan to split into two.
The shares surged the most on record after Chief Executive Officer Guido Kerkhoff said on Friday that the new proposal could also lead to the elimination of as many as 6,000 jobs. Kerkhoff’s reversal comes just seven months after he told investors that dividing the company was the best way forward.
“It is clear that Thyssenkrupp’s strategy of the past has failed," said Lars Forberg, founding partner of Cevian Capital, the second-biggest shareholder. "All stakeholders now believe that a fundamentally new direction is urgently needed."
The company has faced intense turmoil over the past year and the shares are trading near the lowest level since 2003. It’s time "to hit the reset button," said Kerkhoff, who took the top job at the company just last year.
ThyssenKrupp decided on Friday against an earlier plan to spin off the steel operations into a joint venture with Tata Steel after deciding regulators were likely to reject it. Thyssenkrupp shares rose as much as 21 per cent, the biggest intra-day gain on record. The stock was up 19.38 per cent to €13.55 as of 3:33pm (7.03 pm IST) on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange.
Flagging auto sales and US-China trade war are continuing to take a toll on the company. Thyssenkrupp expects to report a net loss for the year and Kerkhoff said trade woes are stifling business development. A key part of the CEO’s new turnaround plan will be an initial public offering of the elevator unit.
Elevators are the largest contributor to earnings, with rapid growth coming from cities in emerging markets that are industrializing and building skyscrapers. In the fourth quarter, they accounted for 61% of pre-tax profits. Thyssenkrupp plans to keep a majority stake in the business after the IPO.
“Elevators remains the crown jewel and should attract strong interest,” said analysts at Jefferies International including Alan Spence.
Thyssenkrupp also said it was unable to resolve antitrust issues presented by the European Commission over its steel joint venture. The rationale for the deal was questionable, given the pressures facing the Tata Steel Europe business, said Christian Obst, a metals equity analyst at Baader Bank AG.
It will also scrap a plan that would have divided the company. The split, announced in September 2018, would have carved out Thyssenkrupp Industrials, comprised of elevator, automotive supplies and plant construction businesses, and Thyssenkrupp Materials, which would run steel and metal-focused operations.
“Thyssenkrupp has lost another eight months with its attempt to turn around,” said Ingo Speich, chief of sustainability and corporate governance at Deka Investment, one of the company’s shareholders. “The split was the chief executive’s master plan, the failure therefore dents into his credibility."
Kerkhoff said the main focus is now improving financial performance. Thyssenkrupp’s relatively weak balance sheet hampers its strategic options and “that needs to change,” he said.
The company is still feeling the pinch from past missteps like the ill-fated ventures in the Americas that cost it about 8 billion euros, he said. “For years, we don’t really make much progress,” Kerkhoff said.