Whirlpool in 'payback' bid for Maytag

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2005, 12:00am

US giant trumps Haier offer amid growing dissatisfaction over Chinese acquisitions of American firms

Whirlpool, the biggest maker of home appliances in the United States, has offered US$1.35 billion in cash and stock for Maytag Group, topping a bid from China's Haier Group in what could be interpreted as 'payback'.

In 1999 Whirlpool had to sell its refrigerator and air-conditioning businesses in China because they were losing money, mainly due to cut-price competition from Haier.

Now, the US giant is taking its revenge by tabling an offer of US$17 a share for Maytag, US$1 higher than the bid offered last month by Haier and two US partners, Bain Capital Partners and Blackstone Capital.

The bid will end Haier's offer unless it comes up with more money.

It is also timed to take advantage of the growing political and public anger in the US against Chinese acquisitions of its assets.

Talks by CNOOC to buy oil firm Unocal are deadlocked as the deal faces increasing political opposition in Washington.

Whirlpool's offer came five days before Maytag, the third-biggest home appliance maker in the US, was due to complete due diligence on the Haier-led bid, on Friday and finish its talks with the Chinese company.

Maytag has a third suitor in the form of an investor group led by New York private equity firm Ripplewood Holdings, which has bid US$14 a share.

Maytag shareholders are due to vote on the Ripplewood offer on August 19.

A Haier spokesman yesterday would only say: 'We are paying great attention to the acquisition of Maytag but have made no decision on the issue. We are not going to comment on the behaviour of other companies.'

Whirlpool's action has been stirred up by CNOOC's bid and follows the acquisition in December last year by Lenovo Group of the personal-computer business of IBM for US$1.25 billion.

In an open letter to Maytag, Whirlpool said that it would pay at least 50 per cent in cash and the balance in shares and that a combination of the two companies could achieve 'substantial efficiencies' to drive cost savings, use of assets and innovation in an increasingly competitive industry.

Haier's bid is likely to lead to the close of some or most of Maytag's plants in the US, replacing them with production in Asia, while retaining Maytag's brands and sales and distribution network.

Of Maytag's 14 factories, 12 are in the US and two in Mexico, while it buys most of parts and components in the US.

Whirlpool has 31 of its 41 factories outside the US, including one plant in Shenzhen that makes microwave ovens for the US and Europe.

Whirlpool has used its mainland plants mainly to make goods for the export market because competition from companies such as Haier has kept prices low and profit margins thin or non-existent.

The Whirlpool bid will be more popular with US politicians, public opinion and Maytag's labour unions than Haier's and is likely to force it to come up with a better offer.

Haier has no experience of taking over a large and well-established western firm that has a history and corporate culture of its own, and is a universe away from the state-owned mindset of companies in which most Haier executives grew up.