Activist builds 15.1 percent Clariant stake, fights Huntsman deal

ZURICH (Reuters) – The activist investor fighting Clariant’s (CLN.S) planned $20 billion merger with Huntsman Corp (HUN.N) has built a 15.1 percent stake in the Swiss chemical maker, making it the company’s biggest shareholder.

In a letter to Clariant’s board of directors, White Tale Holdings, the vehicle created by investor Keith Meister’s Corvex hedge fund and New York’s 40 North to buy the Clariant shares, maintained its opposition to the Huntsman deal.

“Unfortunately, we remain convinced, and increasingly so, that the proposed merger is detrimental to Clariant shareholders,” White Tale said in the letter published on Tuesday.

“It both significantly destroys existing Clariant shareholder value and prevents Clariant from pursuing multiple alternative and immediate opportunities to unlock value for its shareholders.”

The investor urged Clariant to look at strategic alternatives to the tie-up with Huntsman and said it was open to joining the company’s board.

Clariant said in July White Tale Holdings held “in excess of 10 percent” of shares.

Clariant and Huntsman in May announced a merger valued at around $20 billion including debt in which Clariant shareholders would hold 52 percent of the combination.

They talked up prospects for faster growth for the combined company as rationale for “a merger of equals”. Among other things, they expect about $400 million in annual cost synergies.

However, White Tale, which made public its opposition to the deal in July, said around 300 million Swiss francs ($312 million) of these savings could be achieved by Clariant alone through a cost-savings programme.

“The terms of the proposed merger significantly undervalue Clariant’s shares while they simultaneously overvalue Huntsman at the peak of its cyclical commodity business cycle,” White Tale said.

Clariant was not immediately available for comment.

In a newspaper interview published this month, Huntsman Chief Executive Peter Huntsman said shareholders in Clariant and his own company “almost without exception” support their planned merger after learning the rationale for the deal.

Two-thirds of Clariant shareholders have to back the deal at an extraordinary general meeting for it to proceed.

($1 = 0.9605 Swiss francs)

Reporting by Joshua Franklin; Editing by Michael Shields

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