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Update: thyssenkrupp sells AST to Italian Arvedi Group

German steel group thyssenkrupp is once again trying to dispose of its Italian subsidiary, stainless steel flat producer Acciai Speciali Terni (AST). After a sale of AST by thyssenkrupp failed again in 2018.

In May 2020, thyssenkrupp AG commissioned the consulting firm JP Morgan with a renewed attempt to sell AST. Four companies are currently still interested in AST – two Italian and two Asian. So far the outcome is still completely open. In any case, enormous challenges await the buyer.

AST: Who will buy the Italian stainless steel producer Acciai Speciali Terni?
AST: Who will buy the Italian stainless steel producer Acciai Speciali Terni?

Which companies want to buy AST?

While ten companies were originally interested in buying the Italian flat steel producer AST, only four companies remain, apparently following an indiscretion in an Italian magazine. In addition to the Italian stainless steel heavyweights Marcegaglia and the Arvedi Group, the South Korean steel group POSCO and the Chinese state-owned Baowu Steel Group Corp., Ltd. are among the possible bidders for Acciai Speciali Terni.

What is so significant about the sale of AST?

It is precisely the South Korean group POSCO and the Chinese Baowu Group that have not only the Italian media in an uproar, but also the powerful and influential Italian trade unions and domestic politicians. After all, a sale to a foreign group would open the door to the Asians.

The interested parties in AST:

Marcegaglia

In addition to its stainless steel business, the Italian group Marcegaglia is also active in many other steel-related areas. According to its own statement, Marcegaglia processes more than 5 million tons of steel per year and has sales of more than 5.5 billion euros.

Arvedi Group

The Milanese holding company Finarvedi S.p.A., which acts as the umbrella company for the Arvedi Group, generated approximately 3.1 billion euros in 2018 and also employs around 3,600 people. Among them, the Italian company focuses on flat steel and stainless steel products and tubes.

Baowu Steel Group Corp, Ltd.

The Chinese state-owned Baowu Group is the world’s largest steel producer. With a production volume of more than 115 million tons, it is a real heavyweight among the four likely bidders for AST.

POSCO

South Korean steel giant POSCO ranks 6th in the top 50 largest steel producers in the world and produces over 42 million tons of steel and stainless steel per year. POSCO also has its own steel mills around the world and is continuously exploring other investments.

Is an Italian solution most likely for AST?

Even though POSCO and Baowu, two of the world’s biggest steel groups, are in the running in the bidding process for AST, it remains to be seen whether a foreign group will really prevail.

thyssenkrupp has already failed to win AST

With Acciai Speciali Terni, an important and strategic part of Italian production capacity would end up in non-Italian or non-European hands. Which would represent a national problem. Already thyssenkrupp had to experience what it means to be confronted with Italian unions and media, local politics and other very specific challenges of the location there in itself. At first glance, there never seemed to be any great love affair between thyssenkrupp and AST.

Sale to Asia could be interesting for possible buyer

So if, contrary to possible political discord, possible intervention by the European Union and direct intervention by Italian politics, a sale to e.g. POSCO should come about, the South Koreans could face enormous new challenges. In any case, we wonder how POSCO or the Chinese will solve challenges that others have already cut their teeth on several occasions.

Will Italian state-owned company be revived especially for Acciai Speciali Terni?

But it is more likely that an internal Italian solution will be found. Speculation has already begun to circulate that historic state-owned groups could be given a new lease of life just to prevent a sale to the Asians.

By the end of the year, thyssenkrupp and JP Morgan want to wrap up the sale of AST. But perhaps, to the repeated surprise of all concerned, the German thyssenkrupp AG will remain as the parent company of AST.

In any case, these are our thoughts that we would like to share here on this topic.

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