Tata Steel planning to sell off UK steel operations

Mumbai: Having suffered nearly $3 billion in losses on its UK operations, Tata Steel is exploring to put its entire portfolio there up for sale, some 10 years after it forayed into Europe by acquiring Anglo-Dutch Corus for over $8.1 billion. However, steel sector analysts are of the view that it is going to be difficult for the Indian group to find a buyer at this juncture when the sector is facing a downturn. The decision comes less than a week after Tata Steel UK said it has reached an agreement to sell its Clydebridge and Dalzell steel facilities in Scotland to the local government, which will, in turn, hive it off to Liberty House, an international steel and non-ferrous metals group. "The Tata Steel board today reviewed the recent performance of the European business of the, more specifically of Tata Steel UK. It noted with deep concern the deteriorating financial performance of the UK subsidiary in the last 12 months," a company statement said. "Following the strategic view taken by the Tata Steel Board regarding the UK business, it has advised the board of its European holding company, Tata Steel Europe, to explore all options for portfolio restructuring including potential divestment of Tata Steel UK, in whole or in parts." The company said while the global steel demand, especially in developed markets like Europe, has remained muted following the financial crisis of 2008, trading conditions in the UK and Europe have rapidly deteriorated more recently. "These factors are likely to continue into the future and have significantly impacted on the long term competitive position of the UK operations in spite of several initiatives undertaken by the management and the workers of the business in recent years," it said. "Even under these adverse market conditions, Tata Steel group has extended substantial financial support to the UK business and suffered asset impairment of more than 2 billion pounds in the last five years," it said. "Given the severity of the funding requirement in the foreseeable future, the Tata Steel Europe board will be advised to evaluate and implement the most feasible option in time bound manner." Reacting to the development, Akash Gupta - associate director, Fitch Ratings, told IANS: "Fitch continues to include the European operations while analysing Tata Steel in the absence of any firm plans/agreements on restructuring/sale. The European operations are a drag on the consolidated financial profile on account of the EBITDA losses." Steel sector analysts told IANS that the UK and also the European operations were posing problems for the Tata Steel for a long time. "The Indian group has been patient for a long time and it would be difficult to continue to be so," an analyst, not wanting to be named, told IANS. However, it is not going to be easy for the Tatas to find a buyer for the plant given the market conditions, the unions at the plant and other issues. Shifting the plant to India is also not a feasible option as the European plants are old though the Indian group might have invested in upgradation, analysts told IANS. The Tata Steel board also reviewed the proposed restructuring and transformation plan for strip products in UK prepared by the European subsidiary in consultation with an independent and internationally reputed consultancy firm. The board, according to the company, came to a conclusion that the plan is unaffordable, needing material funding support in the next two years, in addition to significant capital over the long term. Since the assumptions behind it are inherently risky, and its likelihood of delivery is highly uncertain, the board also concluded it will not be able to support the investments necessary to proceed with the proposed strip products UK transformation plan. According to Tata Steel, it has been in deep engagement with the UK Government in recent months seeking support to achieve the best possible outcome for the UK business, within the restrictions of State Aid Rules and other statutory limits. "These discussions are ongoing and will continue. Discussions will also continue with Greybull in relation to a sale of the UK long products business. The UK Government is also involved in the latter discussions," Tata Steel said. Meanwhile, at the bourses Tata Steel's decision on its UK operations found favour. The company's scrip closed at Rs.324.40, up from the previous day's closing price of Rs.303.90, at the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE). Tata Steel's website says it is the second largest steel producer in Europe with a diversified presence across the continent. It has a crude steel production capacity of over 18 million tonnes per annum there -- more than two-thirds of the group's total capacity. In UK and Ireland, it has three steelmaking facilities at Port Talbot, Rotherham and Scunthorpe, with a combined crude steel production capacity of 11 million tonnes per annum.