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Rejecting €8.9bn bid 'was right for Smurfit investors'

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Confident: Smurfit Kappa chief financial officer Ken Bowles. Photo: Maxwells

Confident: Smurfit Kappa chief financial officer Ken Bowles. Photo: Maxwells

Confident: Smurfit Kappa chief financial officer Ken Bowles. Photo: Maxwells

The chief financial officer of packaging giant Smurfit Kappa, Ken Bowles, doesn't think shareholders have "any lingering concerns" about the failed €8.9bn attempt by US firm International Paper to buy the Irish group in 2018.

Despite a surge in its share price earlier last week after it reported record profits for 2019, Smurfit Kappa's market capitalisation, at €7.8bn, is well below the €9.4bn at which International Paper's cash and share proposal valued the group.

Its second approach valued Smurfit Kappa at €39.71 per share. The company's shares were changing hands at around €34 last Friday.

The unsolicited approach by the Memphis-based firm was rejected and criticised by Smurfit Kappa's board in a melee that became increasingly acrimonious.

The US company ceased efforts to buy Smurfit Kappa in mid-2018, citing a lack of engagement by the Irish group's management.

In February 2018, around the time International Paper made its first approach to Smurfit Kappa, the Irish company launched a medium-term plan to invest €1.6bn in the business over a four-year period.

Releasing its results last week, Smurfit Kappa CEO Tony Smurfit said that the group had achieved a return on capital employed of 17pc in 2019, "which is in line with our medium-term target".

He insisted the FTSE-100 business has been "transformed" and is "delivering on our vision".

Mr Smurfit said that two years ago, the group promised investors that it would have an optimised model, increased geographic diversity, increased balance sheet strength and "secure and superior returns".

"Just two years later, we are well ahead of our expectations," he said.

Mr Bowles insisted that despite the shares trading below the level of the International Paper proposal's valuation, Smurfit Kappa shareholders have continued to benefit from the group's performance.

"If you took the price offered and if you took our share price today plus the dividend we've given the shareholders over the past couple of years, you probably don't end up very much different in terms of the offer price - we're probably there or thereabouts," he said.

Since February 2018, Smurfit Kappa has paid or declared total dividends of €2.71 per share.

"If we go back to the reasons we said no, which was that we felt that as an independent company we could deliver better returns," said Mr Bowles.

"What we see in the results is that through 2018 and 2019 we delivered the returns that we said we would as part of our reason to stay independent.

"I think we can be confident in the decision we made back then in relation to how we see the out-turn in the results in 2018 and 2019."

Irish Independent