Opposition to a takeover offer for German construction firm Hochtief by Spanish peer ACS is gathering steam. The regional government has indicated it will try to help fend off the bid.
Hochtief is Germany's largest construction company
Hochtief faces a takeover bid from Spanish rival ACS, which shareholders, management and workers believe is not in the interest of Germany's biggest construction company.
The economy minister of the western state of North-Rhine Westphalia, Harry Voigtsberger, told German media that a takeover would "neither be in the interest of the state nor the employees of Hochtief."
A spokesperson confirmed to Deutsche Welle that the regional ministry was looking at ways to help Hochtief fend off the bid.
"Mr. Voigtsberger will meet Hochtief chief executive Herbert Luetkestratkoetter this Friday. Of course, our powers are limited, but we will see what we can do," the spokesperson said.
Hochtief's CEO is determined to fight the takeover
No help from Berlin
Hochtief's management had asked the federal government for help at the weekend, but was rebuffed by Federal Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle, who stressed that it was not the government's place to intervene in corporate takeovers.
Meanwhile, ACS insists it has "friendly intentions," but Hochtief has dismissed its offer from September 16 as presenting "no value to Hochtief shareholders."
On Monday, around 500 workers demonstrated against the takeover bid, which has not been formally launched, outside the company's head office in the western city of Essen. ACS managers were there to discuss their intentions with Hochtief's supervisory board.
They might be giants
Hochtief's works council, which is by law represented on the board, is worried that ACS may sell off parts of the company if a merger is successful.
ACS is run by Real Madrid chairman Florentino Perez
The company has 66,000 employees worldwide, 11,000 of which are based in Germany. A tie-up with ACS would create the world's largest construction company.
ACS is already the biggest single shareholder in Hochtief, with a stake of just under 30 percent, which it wants to increase to a controlling stake of just over 50 percent.
The Association of the German Construction Industry has urged the government and the EU to create equal conditions for all. It says in Spain the industry is heavily subsidized, allowing companies there to grow, so that they are now in a position to launch takeover bids. If ACS gobbles up Hochtief, there would be only one large German construction firm left, Bilfinger Berger, which is not enough to compete internationally, according to the industry body.
Although Hochtief is known in the industry as a profitable business, which has weathered the global financial crisis well, its management will find it hard to fend off a bid. One option is to launch a capital increase, which would make a takeover more expensive for the already highly-indebted rival ACS.
Author: Nicole Goebel
Editor: Stuart Tiffen