Is Axalta Coating Systems in Berkshire’s Crosshairs?

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

Could a former DuPont unit be an acquisition target for Berkshire Hathaway’s Lubrizol Corporation?

Berkshire Hathaway has acquired a minority stake in Axalta Coating Systems (AXTA), a leading global coatings company “dedicated solely to the development, manufacture and sale of liquid and powder coatings.”

In a statement released by Axalta, “an affiliate of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (“Berkshire Hathaway”) has entered into a definitive stock purchase agreement with certain affiliates of The Carlyle Group (“Carlyle”) for the purchase of a total of 20 million of Axalta’s common shares for an aggregate purchase price of $560 million, or $28.00 per share. Axalta will not receive proceeds from the sale of the shares. In connection with the purchase, Berkshire Hathaway agreed that it would not dispose of the shares for 90 days following the consummation of the sale. Axalta has agreed to provide Berkshire Hathaway with certain registration rights following the expiration of that 90-day period.”

The $28 share price is substantially below the $31.30 share price that Axalta was trading at after the announcement.

A Leader in Specialty Coatings

Headquartered in Philadelphia, Axalta is a worldwide leader in development and manufacture of specialty coatings.

The company lists the following facts on its website:

• More than 12,000 people who create, manufacture, distribute and support our products and services
• Doing business in 130 countries
• 35 manufacturing plants around the world
• 7 Research & Development centers on four continents
• Over 1,800 patents held or pending
• 45 training centers to support our refinish customers around the globe
• More than 120,000 customers including 4,000 distributors
• 2013 revenues of $4.3 billion

The company was founded in 1866 as Herberts, the original producer of Standox® paint products. Spun off of DuPont Performance Coatings in 2013, it was sold to the Carlyle Group and renamed Axalta Coating Systems. Today the company is a leader in coatings for commercial vehicles.

In Lubrizol’s Crosshairs?

While Berkshire has not formally announced the affiliate that acquired the Axalta stake, it would seem to be good fit for specialty chemicals manufacturer Lubrizol Corporation.

Lubrizol has been on an acquisition spree lately. In December 2013, Lubrizol acquired pipeline chemical maker Phillips 66 from ConocoPhillips. It was rechristened Lubrizol Specialty Products, Inc. In 2014, it acquired Warwick Chemicals, and Engineered Chemistry and Integrity Industries.

The Carlyle Group remains Axalta’s largest shareholder, with 150.3 million shares, and the question has to be whether the Berkshire stake is a prelude to Berkshire’s acquisition of Axalta as a subsidiary of Lubrizol?

© 2015 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.