Sell, invest, sell again: DuPont spin-offs keep bankers busy

Charlie Shaver, chief executive, Axalta Coatings. The Philadelphia-based auto paints giant is considering a “merger of equals” with Netherlands-based AkzoNobel.

It’s too bad Philadelphia investment banks aren’t big enough to do Wall Street-size deals in their own backyard anymore. All the action among DuPont Co.’s busy local successors is enriching New York deal-makers instead.

Axalta Coating Systems, DuPont’s former automotive-paints division, said Monday that it was in merger talks with Amsterdam-based AkzoNobel’s larger global paints and coatings business. Axalta says it would be a “merger of equals,” which would free the deal from U.S. income taxes, like Dow Chemical’s recent merger with DuPont itself. But a deal could also mean cuts for Axalta’s Philadelphia headquarters: Dutch politicians have warned they don’t want to lose AkzoNobel’s headquarters, which was at risk under a previous takeover offer from Pittsburgh-based PPG.

Axalta employs more than 13,000 worldwide. Its headquarters is on Market Street in Center City; back offices are in Chadds Ford. The company has used research space at the DuPont Experimental Station near Wilmington, and has been planning to consolidate all this into a new facility at the Navy Yard — if a big merger doesn’t change things.

Shares of Axalta jumped nearly $5 Friday after Reuters reported talks, though the stock has remained below last year’s peak of about $37, nearly double the price when it went public three years ago. (It closed at $32.43 Monday, down 0.72 or 2.17 percent.) Axalta refused previous merger offers and had been beefing up operations, with at least six acquisitions so far this year. Billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is Axalta’s largest owner, with almost one-tenth of the stock.

On Saturday, meanwhile, Invista, the Koch brothers’ Kansas-based synthetic-fabrics company, said it was selling Lycra and other textiles developed by DuPont to Shandong Ruyi Investment Holding for an undisclosed price.

The sale includes brands in Invista’s Wilmington-based apparel and advanced textiles division — Lycra HyFit, Coolmax, Thermolite, Elaspan, Supplex and Tactel — plus manufacturing processes and materials, facilities, and research, development, technical and sales staff, for a total of 3,000 people worldwide.

The buyer is a U.S. affiliate of one of China’s rising industrial companies, Shandong Ruyi Technology Group, which has built its original woolen mill into a multinational fashion and textile group through deals including recent investments in French luxury brand group SMPC (Sandro, Maje, Claudie Pierlot), Aquascutum (British coats), and Carloway Mill (which makes Harris Tweed), among others.

Koch Industries bought DuPont’s Invista division— including the businesses it is selling to Shandong Ruyi plus nylon, Spandex, Stainmaster and other brands — for $4.4 billion in 2003, during one of DuPont’s sporadic attempts to sell familiar product lines and invest proceeds in high tech, seeking higher profits. Freed from DuPont bureaucracy, Koch boosted Invista earnings by adding product lines and updating production.

Invista is keeping the former DuPont nylon business, Stainmaster carpet fibers, and other brands, supporting polymer processes, plants in Texas, and the square-mile original nylon works in Seaford, Del., that once employed thousands. “We look forward to continuing to develop our brands and broaden our capabilities,” Invista Apparel and Advanced Textiles president Dave Trerotola said in a statement.

Bankers at JPMorgan and lawyers at Latham & Watkins in New York advised Shandong Ruyi on the sale and how to pay for it. Wall Street’s Goldman Sachs and Jones Day advised Invista.

Chemours isn’t buying anything at the moment, though industry analysts expect the Wilmington-based company will keep fielding offers for the cyclical businesses the DuPont spin-off operates — Teflon, mining cyanide, refrigerants, and titanium dioxide, among others.

The company said Monday that it plans to move its research and development from the DuPont Experimental Station and other ex-DuPont sites to a new $150 million building at the former Chrysler factory site at the University of Delaware in Newark.

Chemours says it’s moving R&D to Newark so it can boost its new-product pipeline with scholars and grads from the university’s chemical-engineering program, one of the nation’s best thanks to long DuPont ties. The proposed glass-walled, 312,000-square-foot building will house 330 scientists and technicians.