(Bloomberg) -- Swedish steelmaker SSAB AB is exploring a combination with Tata Steel Ltd.’s European business as a back-up plan to a deal with Thyssenkrupp AG amid industry consolidation, according to people familiar with the matter.
SSAB is holding preliminary talks with Tata Steel of India as it seeks merger options, the people said, asking not to be identified as the matter is private. The Swedish company, which has a market value of around 28 billion Swedish kronor ($3.2 billion), would gain control of Tata Steel’s European business if they pursued such a deal, they said.
Steel producers in Europe are under pressure to consolidate, having been battered by weaker demand and global overcapacity, combined with soaring prices of iron ore and high supply of low-cost imported steel. As a result, several major producers are speaking to each other about potential mergers.
SSAB is among steelmakers interested in acquiring steel assets from Thyssenkrupp, the German conglomerate that’s restructuring to ensure its survival. That is their preferred partner due to the strategic fit, two of the people said. But the Swedish pursuit was complicated last week by news that Sanjeev Gupta’s Liberty Steel had made a non-binding indicative offer for the German business.
Thyssenkrupp will carefully examine the offer, while continuing discussions with other potential partners, the company said in a statement last week. Representatives for SSAB, Tata Steel, Liberty Steel and Thyssenkrupp declined to comment when contacted on Thursday.
Liberty is a relative upstart controlled by commodity trader-turned-serial dealmaker Gupta. It’s a unit of GFG Alliance, a loose structure of companies owned by members of Gupta’s family. The company has drawn the spotlight for its rate of expansion in the past five years. GFG has also faced scrutiny for the opaque structure of its business and heavy reliance on financing from Lex Greensill’s eponymous firm.
Thyssenkrupp previously tried to partner with Tata Europe but the joint steel venture faced opposition in 2019 from European regulators. It’s also held initial talks with SSAB and Tata as well as domestic rival Salzgitter AG over a potential combination with its steel unit, people familiar with the matter have previously said.
SSAB Chief Executive Officer Martin Lindqvist on Thursday said the company is “not engaging in any bidding process” for Thyssenkrupp steel when asked by an analyst on a third-quarter earnings call. He didn’t comment on whether the company is holding talks.
Tata, which operates the iconic blast furnace at Port Talbot in the U.K. and another big plant in the Netherlands, has been trying to find a solution for its European business since being hit by the 2016 commodity crisis, though many of its troubles stem from before then.
In August, Tata Steel Chairman Natarajan Chandrasekaran said that the company was fully aware of the need to restructure the European business and was actively looking for a sustainable structural solution so that the India operations are not funding these entities.
Tata would also be interested in revisiting a potential tie-up with Thyssenkrupp’s steel unit to see if regulatory approval could be achieved the second-time around, one of the people said.
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