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Should Kuka Remain in European Hands?

May 31, 2016
Chinese appliance leader Midea offered up more than 4.5 billion euros for Kuka, but the EU Digital Commissioner says the German robotics company should look closer to home for a savior investor.

FRANKFURT — Kuka AG, the German maker of industrial robots that became a takeover target for China’s Midea Group Co. two weeks ago, would be better off with a white knight from closer to home to keep key knowledge within the region, according to European Union Digital Economy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger.

“Kuka is of significant importance for the digital future of European industry,” Oettinger said in an e-mailed response to questions. “Since there was no cry for help to China, the thought should be allowed that a European approach — an alternative offer from one of its large shareholders or other companies stepping in — could be a better solution.

“We should do a better job in looking after the key future contributors to Europe’s industry.”

Midea, China’s biggest maker of home appliances, made an offer on May 18 of 115 euros ($128.42) per Kuka share, valuing the supplier of automation equipment to Airbus Group SE, Volkswagen AG and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV at 4.6 billion euros ($5.14 billion). Midea already owns 13.5% indirectly, and said it’s targeting a stake of at least 30%, though doesn’t plan a full takeover. Kuka’s largest shareholders are Friedhelm Loh and Voith GmbH, who between them own almost a third of the company.

Oettinger’s remarks on Kuka’s ownership follow a report on his stance earlier Monday in German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Voith, among the biggest family-run businesses in Europe, acquired its stake in 2014, the same year Loh, who owns enclosure and switchgear-systems maker Rittal GmbH & Co. KG, bought his holding.

By Richard Weiss and Gaspard Sebag

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