Holcim, Lafarge Create Swiss Merger

GENEVA (AP) -- Two of the world's largest suppliers of building materials announced plans for a "merger of equals" Monday that would create an industry giant with a combined 32 billion euros ($44 billion) in annual revenues.

Swiss-based Holcim and its French counterpart, Lafarge, said the new company would be named LafargeHolcim and be headquartered in Switzerland. They said the merger would create the most advanced group in the building materials industry — the two companies are already global leaders in the supply of cement, crushed stone, sand and gravel.

The plan is for Holcim board member Wolfgang Reitzle to serve as chairman of the merged entity, while Lafarge's chairman and chief executive Bruno Lafont becomes its CEO. Seven people from each company will be represented on the board.

Reitzle, a German mechanical engineer, also has extensive experience in the automotive industry, while Lafont, a French business executive, has been with Lafarge for more than 30 years and is also a special adviser to the mayor of Chongqing, a Chinese city of 32 million.

"This merger of equals is a unique opportunity in the history of our companies," Holcim chairman Rolf Soirin told reporters in Paris.

Lafont emphasized the two companies' complementary geography. While Lafarge has greater presence in mature North American and European markets, Holcim has a far larger reach in the faster growing markets of Asia and Latin America.

Holcim, based near Zurich, employs 71,000 people and has production sites in around 70 countries. Paris-based Lafarge, meanwhile, employs 65,000 people and operates in 64 countries.

The companies said that by combining they would "be uniquely positioned in 90 countries around the world with a balanced exposure to both developed and high-growth markets."

They said they plan to sell off businesses in developed markets representing about 3 billion euros of revenue and businesses in developing markets worth about 1.5 billion euros of revenue.

The deal is expected to close in the first half of next year, subject to regulatory approval.

In Monday morning trading, shares of Lafarge shot up 2.7 percent to 65.80 euros, while Holcim rose 1.7 percent to 81.55 Swiss francs.

Greg Keller in Paris contributed to this report.

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