NESTE UNLOADS SPORTING GOODS MAKER EXEL

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In a continuation of its efforts to get out of the composites business, Finnish chemical giant Neste Oy has sold Exel Oy to another Finnish firm, Sponsor Oy.

As a result of the deal, Neste's sole remaining holding in the composites industry is its 25 percent stake in Creative Pultrusions in Alum Banks, Pa. A Neste spokesman declined to comment on the Finnish firm's plans for that U.S. unit.

Exel makes pultruded ski poles, windsurfing masts and floor ball shafts as well as industrial profiles. Exel was founded in 1958 and sold to Neste in 1986, Exel director Ari Jokelainen said from Mätyharju, Finland, in a telephone interview.

The group's 1996 sales reached 140 million Finnish marks (about $24.45 million.) Exel owns two plants in Finland and had operated a facility in Canada until 1992. Exel employs 213, and no jobs were lost as a result of the ownership change, Jokelainen said.

As a holding company, Sponsor buys firms ``to which value can be added,'' according to Sponsor literature. Sponsor Vice President Mikael Leskinen said his company typically holds its acquisitions for 5-10 years.

Sponsor owns a variety of firms, but Exel is its only plastics-related holding, Leskinen said.

The November 1996 sale is a continuation of Neste's efforts to withdraw from the composites business. Those efforts started after the company spun off its polyolefin production to Borealis, a joint venture of Neste and Statoil of Norway, according to a Neste official.

Neste bought Exel in 1986 and guided the group through a number of expansions, including the 1990 purchase of Fiberglas Canada Inc. of Toronto.

At the time, Neste was trying to make composites a ``core business,'' according to a Canadian Exel official quoted in Plastics News.

But Neste no longer produces the bulk resins commonly used in composites, and now cannot get the big value-added boost of using those materials in its own composites products, according to a Neste official who asked not to be identified.

``Now that we are no more directly involved [with the raw materials] business, it does not help us stay in the composites business,'' the official said.

Industry fragmentation is another reason Neste is shedding its composites businesses, the official said.

``It's a very local industry,'' he said, adding it was hard for Neste to develop its composites holdings into a world leader.

Neste, of which the Finnish government is a majority shareholder, operates a number of petroleum-related businesses. Worldwide sales for the firm were FM 43.3 billion (about $7.5 billion) in 1995.