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Unilever withdraws proposal to move to Netherlands

Reuters with CNBC
  • Unilever decided to collapse its Anglo-Dutch structure following a deep business review sparked by last year's failed $143 billion takeover approach by Kraft-Heinz.
  • But the company said it recognized that the proposal had not received support from a significant group of shareholders and therefore it considers it appropriate to withdraw.

Unilever ULVR-GB on Friday said its board had withdrawn its proposal to move to the Netherlands , after a growing tide of opposition by United Kingdom shareholders.

The company decided to collapse its Anglo-Dutch structure following a deep business review sparked by last year's failed $143 billion takeover approach by Kraft-Heinz. The aim was to make it more efficient and agile in a consumer market that is changing fast.

But Unilever said it recognized that the proposal had not received support from a significant group of shareholders and therefore it considers it appropriate to withdraw.

"The board will now consider its next steps and will continue to engage with our shareholders," chairman Marijn Dekkers said. He added that the company will proceed with the plan to cancel its Dutch preference shares.

Earlier this week, influential proxy advisory firm PIRC recommended shareholders vote against the move, which would have seen the maker of Dove soap and Ben & Jerry's ice cream kicked off the benchmark FTSE 100 index.

Reaction

In September, M&G Investments threatened to vote against Unilever's decision to abandon its London base in favor of a new Dutch holding company. In a statement to CNBC on Friday morning, the company welcomed the firm's change of heart.

"We're very pleased that Unilever has listened to its shareholders and decided to withdraw its simplification proposal. This demonstrates the value of asset managers actively engaging with their investee companies."

Investment management firm Columbia Threadneedle is the sixth largest investors in Unilever, according to the most recent filings, holding a recorded $144 million stake. In an emailed statement to CNBC, the investor expressed satisfaction at the decision.

"We are pleased with Unilever's decision to halt its proposed plans. Better approaches are possible and the problems for shareholder were foreseeable. We agree with the principle of simplification and look forward to engaging with management," said Iain Richards, head of responsible investment at Columbia Threadneedle Investments.

And investment manager Aviva, which holds around $9 million worth of Unilever stock, added to chorus of approval after it told CNBC in an emailed statement that it was happy with today's outcome.

"We are pleased that Unilever has listened to shareholders' concerns and chosen to withdraw its proposal. We believe its decision to remain headquartered in the UK in addition to the Netherlands is in the best interests of its UK shareholders and UK plc," the statement read.

Away from the investor world, politicians are also having their say.

The U.K. Business Secretary Greg Clark said in an emailed statement that "keeping Unilever's HQ in the UK builds on two of its three global businesses being based here," before adding that Britain remained committed to being an "open and competitive economy and a great place to locate global headquarters."

And the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was also quick to welcome the news but took the opportunity to suggest that the decision had little to do with the U.K. government's recent handling of Brexit.

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In a note Friday morning, Swiss bank UBS said it expected a mixed reaction to the news that Unilever keep its current dual-listing and stay in London. UBS added that investors will now demand corporate governance improvements under the current structure as well as better operational performance.

In mid-morning trade, Unilever shares listed on the FTSE 100 index in London were sitting lower by about 1 percent.

CNBC's David Reid contributed to this report.





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