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ACS head promises not to dismantle Hochtief

Spanish construction giant ACS seeks to reassure Hochtief workers that it will not break up the German company if its hostile takeover bid is successful.

Workers at a construction site

Hochtief is closer to being taken over than it would like

"We will not shatter Hochtief, because the group as a sum is worth more than its parts," ACS head Florentino Perez told the German Sunday newspaper Welt am Sonntag .

He went on to say that his company, Actividades de Construccion y Servicios (ACS), would not deviate from its stated intention and would be happy to add it in writing to any agreement between the two companies.

In response to last week's demonstration of 2,000 Hochtief workers protesting the hostile takeover bid, Perez, who is also president of the soccer club Real Madrid, said there was a lot of misunderstanding about his company's plans.

"I don't need another trophy," he said, stressing that Hochtief would remain headquartered in the western German city of Essen, and would still be listed on the Frankfurt stock exchange. "And the current board would also still be responsible for daily business."

Florentino Perez

Florentino Perez is trying to allay fears

Not one, but many

Perez, whose debt-ridden ACS currently holds a 29-percent stake in Hochtief, said he was not interested in creating one large construction company, but in having subsidiaries which flew their own flags.

"Hochtief should remain German, Leighton Australian, Turner and Flatiron American," he said, adding that he wanted to create a group so dominant that it would be the obvious choice for any billion-dollar construction contract.

The Spanish CEO told the newspaper of his surprise at Hochtief's negative response to the takeover bid, which is due to be submitted this month.

"Hochtief workers don't need to fear for their jobs," he stressed. "They have nothing to worry about. We have always treated our employees fairly."

Seeking alternatives

But Hochtief chief executive Herbert Luetkestratkoetter is fighting on all fronts to save his company from falling under the umbrella of ACS. Last week, he was reported to be in talks with the Qatari finance minister about his country becoming a "white knight" investor.

He is also looking to Australia, home of its hugely successful subsidiary Leighton Holdings, for help. Hochtief has made an application to the Australian Takeovers Panel to try and force ACS to make a fully priced bid for outstanding shares in Leighton, which makes up some 80 percent of Hochtief's overall earnings.

Leighton itself has also applied to the Takeovers Panel to block the bid on the grounds that it would damage the company's independence and would not be in the interests of its shareholders.

Hochtief CEO Herbert Luetkestratkoetter against a company logo backdrop

Herbert Luetkestratkoetter is seeking alternative solutions for Hochtief

Government role

Back in Germany, there is continuing debate over the role Berlin should or should not play in hostile takeover battles.

In an interview in Monday's Tagesspiegel newspaper, Herbert Bodner, head of the Federation of German Industry, called for a review of takeover legislation.

"We need to check whether we have chosen a legal path that makes hostile takeovers too easy," he said. "In Germany we have a very liberal approach."

But Economics Minister Rainer Bruederle, who last week ruled out any government intervention in the Hochtief case, reiterated his position in Monday's edition of the Leipziger Volkszeitung .

"I think we would damage ourselves through short-sighted deliberation," Bruederle said. "The important thing is that every company has the same chances in every country."

Author: Tamsin Walker (AP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Sam Edmonds

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