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We have a plan B if merger talks break down, says CRH boss

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CRH Plc Chief Executive Officer Albert Manifold As First-Half Earnings Rise...Albert Manifold, chief executive officer of CRH Plc, poses for a photograph following a Bloomberg Television interview in London, U.K., on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. CRH, the biggest company on the benchmark Irish stock index, said it may spend as much as 1.5 billion euros ($2 billion) on acquisitions over the next 18 months, after the building-materials supplier reported a 27 percent increase in first-half earnings. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg...I

CRH Plc Chief Executive Officer Albert Manifold As First-Half Earnings Rise...Albert Manifold, chief executive officer of CRH Plc, poses for a photograph following a Bloomberg Television interview in London, U.K., on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. CRH, the biggest company on the benchmark Irish stock index, said it may spend as much as 1.5 billion euros ($2 billion) on acquisitions over the next 18 months, after the building-materials supplier reported a 27 percent increase in first-half earnings. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg...I

CRH Plc Chief Executive Officer Albert Manifold As First-Half Earnings Rise...Albert Manifold, chief executive officer of CRH Plc, poses for a photograph following a Bloomberg Television interview in London, U.K., on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. CRH, the biggest company on the benchmark Irish stock index, said it may spend as much as 1.5 billion euros ($2 billion) on acquisitions over the next 18 months, after the building-materials supplier reported a 27 percent increase in first-half earnings. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg...I

CRH shareholders have overwhelmingly rubber-stamped the Irish building materials giant's planned €6.5bn acquisition of assets from rivals Holcim and Lafarge, but with no certainty that the Swiss and French companies can get their merger back on track.

CRH chief executive Albert Manifold said he's still working on the assumption that the merger between Holcim and Lafarge will proceed, but insisted that even if it doesn't life for CRH will go on.

"This deal is an important part of the strategy for CRH, but it's not the strategy of CRH," he insisted. "If it works out, we're delighted.

"If it doesn't, we have plan B, plan C, plan D - as we always do at CRH. We have a strategy of long-term growth and our pipeline of acquisitions is quite full at this moment in time."

He added: "With or without this deal, CRH will continue to grow through acquisition." Had CRH not held yesterday's extraordinary general meeting in Dublin to seek shareholder approval for its intended purchases, or if its shareholders had not approved it, the company would have been liable to pay a break fee of €158m.

Likewise, if Holcim and Lafarge don't consummate their merger, they'll have to pay a €158m break fee.

Paris-headquartered Lafarge and Zurich-based Holcim announced their intention to merge last year. In order to secure approval of competition watchdogs, they have agreed to offload assets around the world.

CRH emerged as the successful bidder for those assets earlier this year. It would give the Irish company a wider footprint in some existing markets, and also entry to new markets such as the Philippines. It raised €1.6bn in a share placing in February to help fund the transaction, and will take on an additional €3bn in debt.

But the Lafarge-Holcim deal has hit significant turbulence.

That's largely because the performance of Holcim has bettered that of Lafarge in the past year. That prompted Holcim to revisit the planned merger and seek better terms, throwing the whole deal into doubt.

On Sunday, Holcim wrote to the Lafarge board and said that it wanted to alter the original transaction which would have seen a one-for-one share exchange, and also that it had concerns about the proposed management structure of the new entity.

Lafarge chief executive Bruno Lafont is due to lead the combined group, but there have been questions raised on the Holcim side over whether he is now the right person to do so. He could become a co-chairman under new terms.

Talks between Holcim and Lafarge were continuing yesterday with some expectations that an agreement could be reached last night.

"We're working forward on the basis that the deal will close, the merger will happen," said Mr Manifold.

Mr Manifold said that he had spoken to executives at Lafarge and Holcim on Thursday morning to keep up to date with events on their sides.

He added that even if the merger doesn't proceed, CRH might still be interested in acquiring some of the assets that were put up for sale as part of the deal.

Irish Independent