ThyssenKrupp AG and Tata Steel Ltd.’s attempts to combine their European steel operations are centered on how to value Tata’s troubled U.K. assets, according to people familiar with the matter.
While ThyssenKrupp is open to integrating Tata’s British unit in the joint venture, the Essen, Germany-based company wants Tata to find a way to fund its U.K. pension-scheme obligations as a precondition, the people said, asking not to be identified because the negotiations are private. Tata wants to include the U.K. division in the ThyssenKrupp project, which would give it a bigger stake in the overall venture, one of the people said.
A representative for Tata declined to comment. A spokesman for ThyssenKrupp reiterated the company’s July statement that it wouldn’t comment on talks with Tata until there are material developments.
The British Steel Pension Scheme had a deficit of about 300 million pounds ($393.88 million) as of March on a “consistent basis,” the fund said in a statement to members this month. That’s down from 485 million pounds ($636.77 million) a year earlier, according to its annual report.
Tata is looking for “more sustainable solutions” for its European business and it “would not be realistic to expect that a buyer of the U.K. business or a joint venture would take on responsibility for funding the current or future deficit,” the pension scheme said.
European steelmakers are struggling with overcapacity, worsened by Chinese exports flooding the market. Combining forces would enable Tata, Europe’s second-biggest steelmaker, and third-ranked ThyssenKrupp to better use their facilities and cut costs.
Mumbai-based Tata said last month that it’s in talks with companies, including ThyssenKrupp, about a joint venture. The German steelmaker has been pushing for consolidation in the European industry, which struggles with a “nightmare” of low prices, CEO Heinrich Hiesinger said in June.
Thousands of ThyssenKrupp workers demonstrated against consolidation and restructuring in front of the steel unit’s headquarters in Duisburg, Germany on Wednesday.
“The meaningfulness of a consolidation doesn’t explain itself,” Detlef Wetzel, who represents the IG Metall labor union as deputy chairman of the unit’s supervisory board, told the demonstration. He urged the company’s executives to justify why and how they plan to cut costs by as much as 1.6 billion euros ($1.78 billion), which may include site closures. “Take the staff’s concerns seriously!”
Tata said in March that it would consider selling its U.K. operations after years of losses.
By Tino Andresen, Siddharth Philip and Aaron Kirchfeld