Carlyle ups the pace with first Greek buyout

The Carlyle Group, a US-based buyout firm, has made its first investment in Greece through the acquisition of a 73.54% stake in Athens-based chemical company Neochimiki for an enterprise value of €749m.

Carlyle bought the stake for €19 per share in several block trades on the Athens Stock Exchange and will launch a mandatory tender offer for the remaining shares at the same price before delisting the business.

The acquisition was made through Carlyle Europe Partners III, Carlyle’s third European buyout fund, which closed last September with €5.35bn in committed capital. ABN AMRO Corporate Finance, Sal Oppenheim Jr & Cie, Clifford Chance and Karatzas and Partners advised Carlyle.

Approximately 20% of the shares were acquired from Lavrentis Lavrentiadis, former chairman and chief executive officer of Neochimiki and son of the founder of the business. The remaining shares were acquired from several institutional shareholders.

Founded in 1974, Neochimiki is focused on the distribution of chemical raw materials sourced from multinational chemical suppliers, as well as the production and distribution of fertilisers and raw materials for the coatings industry. The company has more than 8,000 customers in the home, personal care, food, coatings, base oils and rubbers, construction, agriculture and automotive industries.

Neochimiki is Carlyle’s first foray into Greece but not the chemicals sector. Previous investments include AZ Electronic Materials, a €383m acquisition from Clariant in September 2004, partly sold to rival buyout firm Vestar Capital Partners in early 2007; and HC Starck, a German provider of specialty metals, advanced ceramics and electronic chemicals, purchased from Bayer Group in partnership with global private equity house Advent International for €1.2bn in January 2007.

May has been a busy month for Carlyle so far. Aside from Neochimiki, the Washington, DC-headquartered buyout house has also acquired a majority stake in Japanese LCD business NH Techno Glass for an undisclosed sum and formed a significant strategic partnership in China.

A memorandum of understanding with the Department of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation of Shangdong Province will involve Carlyle putting resources and capital into the region in return for the former recommending opportunities for strategic co-operation and investment. Carlyle’s China deals are funded through Carlyle Asian Partners II, a US$1.8bn fund for non-Japanese Asian investments.

However, China has proved a difficult country to crack, with Carlyle having only made a small number of investments in the country, including the high-profile disappointment that was Xugong.

Carlyle’s attempt to acquire an 85% stake in construction machinery business Xugong in 2006 faced strong opposition at both local government level and in the media, forcing Carlyle to accept a reduced 45% minority stake after more than a year of negotiations and the deal is still yet to fully complete. At one point, Carlyle founder David Rubinstein joked that he had been to four closing dinners for the deal.

Rubinstein was back in the media spotlight this week, suggesting that private equity firms had hit the bottom of the decline in activity following the credit squeeze and that deals in the US$2bn to US$4bn range would pick up through the rest of 2008. Rubinstein was speaking following his firm’s US$2.54bn acquisition of US government consulting business Booz Allen Hamilton.