The international petrochemicals crowd is anxious for details about the future of Basell Polyolefins, the world's largest polypropylene maker, but President and Chief Executive Officer Volker Trautz is as talkative as a street mime on the subject.
``I can assure you right away that there is ... a large gap between what you would like to know about the transaction process and what I am in a position to discuss,'' Trautz said at an Oct. 21 news conference at K 2004 in Dusseldorf.
Trautz did confirm that BASF AG and Royal Dutch/Shell Group - the partners that formed Basell in 2000 - have received ``better than expected'' interest so far.
Options for Basell, based in Hoofddorp, the Netherlands, include a sale to a third party or an initial public offering. That first option has seemed more likely, however, as published reports have cited ExxonMobil Chemical Co. and Iran National Petrochemical Co. as potential buyers.
A host of U.S. private equity firms - including Apollo Management LP, Blackstone Group LP, Citigroup Inc., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Bain Capital LLC and Goldman Sachs Capital - along with Germany's UBS AG and Deutsche Bank AG have been mentioned in connection with Basell.
When both sides announced the move in August, a Shell spokesperson said that Basell ``doesn't fit with the portfolio that Shell wants to have.'' Trautz described the pending move as ``a necessary restructuring of the polyolefins industry.''
``Throughout the process, Basell will continue to meet our customers' needs,'' he said. ``It will be business as usual.''
Basell has held up its end of the deal, making itself look attractive by, to date, posting its best-ever financial year. In the first nine months of 2004, the firm's sales were up 11 percent to 4.9 billion euros ($6.3 billion) as it turned a profit of 91 million euros ($117 million). By comparison, Basell had lost 74 million euros ($95 million) in the same period last year.
Like many resin makers, Basell has struggled with high prices for crude oil and natural gas feedstocks in 2004, but those worries have been offset to a degree by sales gains. U.S./Canadian PP sales were up more than 9 percent through August, said the American Plastics Council in Arlington, Va.
Basell's European high density polyethylene business also is undergoing a transformation. By the end of 2005, the firm will have eliminated 660 million pounds of annual HDPE capacity at older plants in Tarragona, Spain; and Knapsack and Frankfurt, Germany. But at the same time, Basell is starting a world-scale plant in Wesseling, Germany, and will open a similar plant in Plock, Poland, in late 2005 as part of its Basell Orlen Polyolefins joint venture.
The new plants will have combined capacity of about 1.3 billion pounds annually, leaving Basell with a net HDPE capacity gain of more than 600 million pounds.
Overall, Basell has $6.9 billion in sales, 6,700 employees, almost 18 billion pounds of PP and 5 billion pounds of PE capacity.
In North America, it employs about 1,000, with production sites in Pasadena, Texas; Westlake, La.; Varennes, Quebec; and Corunna, Ontario. Its North American headquarters is in Elkton, Md.