Sunday, 18 November, 2018

Unilever backs down on moving headquarters from London after British investor revolt

Phil Noble  Reuters               Unilever also owns Dove Magnum and Hellman's Phil Noble Reuters Unilever also owns Dove Magnum and Hellman's
Rhonda Young | 08 October, 2018, 05:05

"Unfortunately, it started to get presented in the retail world in the context of Brexit, that "we want to keep Unilever British", and I think that tipped it over the edge", said one top-30 shareholder, who declined to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media.

Unilever said it engaged with over 200 shareholders about its proposal, and said it had broad support from a lot of them, who agreed that a single structure, with a single pool of equity, would be simpler and more efficient.

Unilever said in a stock exchange announcement at 7am today that the board had chose to withdraw its proposal.

Shareholders representing about 12% of Unilever had publicly opposed the move, concerned about the effective forced selling of their shares with no premium, uncertainty around the future tax treatment of Dutch dividends and a perception that the move was partly aimed at securing greater takeover protection under Dutch law.

Small retail investors added to the momentum opposing the move - an ill-communicated reaction following a surprise $143 billion (109.13 billion pounds) bid from Kraft-Heinz KHC.O past year.

Announcing the decision, which will be a major blow for the board, Unilever's chairman Marijn Dekkers, said they will now consider the "next steps".

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Had the move gone ahead, Unilever's shares were unlikely to have continued trading on the FTSE 100.

The company, which has head offices in both Rotterdam and London, says in a statement Friday that the plan to make Rotterdam its sole headquarters "has not received support from a significant group of shareholders".

The company's board on Friday said it still believes that simplifying its dual-headed structure is the best choice for the long term.

Unilever has indicated that there should not be consequences in terms of employment and meant to retain its three multiple listings on Stock exchanges in London, Amsterdam and NY.

"The board will now consider its next steps and will continue to engage with our shareholders".

Unilever's plan was to move its headquarters to Rotterdam and have its shares traded on the Euronext stock exchange in Amsterdam. He added that the company will proceed with the plan to cancel its Dutch preference shares.

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Unilever's Anglo-Dutch structure dates back to 1929 when British soap maker Lever Brothers combined with Dutch margarine company Margarine Unie.

The decision followed a failed hostile bid by U.S. rival Kraft Heinz a year ago, which analysts said played a key role in Unilever's decision as the Netherlands has stronger rules to protect companies against takeovers.

"This change should not really affect the group's near-term operation, although it may lead to a faster pace for CEO succession planning", Liberum analyst Robert Waldschmidt said.

Mark Rutte is now putting all his weight into the balance within the coalition government to vote on the removal of the tax on dividends, in order to attract multinationals.

It is behind many household brands including Ben & Jerry's ice cream, PG Tips, Domestos and Pot Noodle.

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