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Mittal Steel & Arcelor
by Satya Prakash
Issue 12
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The New Year has not been particularly good for the board executives of Arcelor. Just days after wining the tough fight with ThyssenKrupp AG for buying out the Canadian steel maker Dofasco Inc, they are again huddling in their board room. This time the predator has been turned into prey.

The bid of Rotterdam based Mittal steel has stunned everyone including Arcelor which has termed it as hostile. Mittal steel, controlled 88% by family of L N Mittal has offered to buy shares of Arcelor for Euros 18.6 billion in cash and shares. The steel industry has seen lot of mergers and consolidation in past few years, Arcelor itself being a result of merger of steel companies of France, Luxembourg and Spain. But this bid has outshone all of them.

If successful the combined entity will have total annual capacity of 115mn tones with the next biggest being Nippon Steel of Japan having capacity of 30mn tones. The hectic activity in steel industry started after Chinese demand lifted it from slump. Since then the insatiable Chinese hunger has seen price soaring and profits increasing by 30 to 35 % for most of the companies. At its peak the benchmark hot rolled coil steel jumped from $200 per ton to $600 per ton which has since fallen to around $500.

But this Chinese demand is also supported by huge production from Chinese companies. The output of China in 2005 being 349mn tones, it is estimated that by 2010 Chinese total production will be much higher than its total demand. This would lead to glut coupled with possibility of slump due to cyclical nature of steel market. This leads us to a question, why still Mittal steel is trying to snap Arcelor?

There are few reasons. Though Chinese production capacity is increasing by leaps and bounds it lacks good quality iron ore. It purchases most of the raw material from Brazil and Australia. In the merged scenario, by its sheer size, Mittal steel will have greater bargaining power over suppliers who have increased their prices by 72% in recent times. This will give him an edge over Chinese producers of steel. Secondly steel industry has traditionally been supplier market and Mittal would be able to restore it to that level thus can tide over any slump. Thirdly, with economy of scale it could lower overall operating expense and resist price hike (Arcelor has considerable mining presence)

The other reason could be that Arcelor and Mittal were competing with each other (Ukraine's state-owned Kryvorizhstal) in buying out other steel companies thereby increasing the price. This problem would be solved for Mittal with the takeover.

Chances are high for takeover to go through as most of the share holders of Arcelor are institutions and they don't love individual companies. There could be few hiccups like opposition from French and Luxembourg government. Mittal might also have to raise the price it is offering for each share.
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