Continental said to consider revamp, possible breakup
Continental AG is in exploratory talks with advisers on what could amount to its biggest-ever overhaul and a possible breakup of the German auto-parts supplier, according to people familiar with the matter.
Under scenarios being discussed, Continental could create a holding company for its divisions and then list shares of the more profitable units, such as the tire business, or combine some operations with rivals, said the people, who declined to be identified because the matter is private. The review remains at an early stage, with no decision on whether the changes will be carried out, they said.
Continental spokesman Felix Gress declined to comment on “speculation.” The shares closed 5.4 percent higher at a record 251.30 euros in Frankfurt trading.
A reorganization at one of the world’s largest car-component makers would come at a time when the industry is faced with a momentous shift to electric and self-driving vehicles. Other companies including premium-vehicle maker Daimler AG and parts suppliers Delphi Technologies Plc and Autoliv Inc. have also carried out recent changes in the way they are organized.
Any move by Continental will need the blessing of the Schaeffler family, the largest shareholder with a roughly 45 percent stake. At the height of the financial crisis in 2008, the clan’s industrial bearing and powertrain-manufacturing company, now called Schaeffler AG, faced dramatic financial bottlenecks in its double-digit billions of euros takeover approach for Continental backfired when credit markets contracted.
Continental, which is based in Hanover, Germany, on Tuesday forecast revenue of about 47 billion euros ($56 billion) this year at constant exchange rates, following an 8 percent rise to 44 billion euros in 2017. The company is targeting a slight narrowing of its adjusted earnings before interest and taxes margin to about 10.5 percent of sales “comfortably” from 10.8 last year. Continental released the preliminary results at an investor day in Las Vegas.
The manufacturer has two main divisions. The automotive unit makes chassis and safety parts as well as interiors and large powertrains, while the rubber business combines the company’s namesake tire brand and ContiTech, a maker of conveyor belts and chain-tracks for off-road vehicles like snow mobiles.
The company would gain “more degrees of freedom” with a holding structure as it would facilitate expansion and possible acquisitions in fields like electric mobility and autonomous driving, Landesbank Baden-Wuerttemberg analyst Frank Biller said by phone. He said he wouldn’t favor a share sale of the tire operations or merger of the business with a competitor since the unit’s cash flow is used to invest in new technologies.
Untangling operations with little or no overlap has emerged as an industry trend, with Daimler saying in October it would create a holding company for its three separate units by 2019. Earlier in 2017, Delphi and Sweden’s Autoliv both moved to split in two parts to give electronics and self-driving car activities more flexibility.
Delphi early last year held talks with Continental on a potential tie-up of their powertrain divisions, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News at the time.
Investors generally embrace breakups like the ones of Delphi and Autoliv,Sanford Bernstein analyst Max Warburton said in a note in November, adding that Continental’s shareholders should push for a similar change.
“We’ve previously made calls for Conti to split itself up, arguing that its numerous divisions do not sit well together,” he wrote.