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India tire company sees Cooper acquisition on track amid labor strike in China

Bloomberg News

India’s Apollo Tyres Ltd. said it’s proceeding with its planned purchase of Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. of Findlay, even as workers at the U.S. tire maker’s venture factory in China have been on a monthlong strike in protest of the deal.

“We are on track to close the deal in a timely manner and will deal with this and other issues as a matter of course,” Apollo Chief Financial Officer Sunam Sarkar said in an email interview.

Apollo expects to receive the relevant regulatory approvals in October to complete the deal, he said.

Apollo is seeking to buy Cooper for $2.5 billion in the biggest acquisition by an Indian company in North America. Workers at Cooper’s joint venture factory in China have been on strike since July 13.

The union wasn’t consulted on the deal even though the joint-venture is the biggest among Cooper’s eight global facilities, according to a June 18 letter posted on Chengshan Group’s website. The venture earned $106.5 million in pretax profit in 2012 and will contribute an additional $64 million once an expansion is completed in end-2014, the union said.

The venture’s prospects have been jeopardized by the deal, with suppliers calling to press for payments and some orders being canceled, according to the statement.

“Who can guarantee the success of integration of American culture and Indian culture,” the union said in its statement. “We strongly protest this transaction, which disregards the living rights of employees.”

Apollo is planning to fund the purchase through debt, with Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank AG hired to manage a $1.875 billion sale of high-yield bonds issued by Cooper, according to Sarkar. Standard Chartered has underwritten a $450 million bridge loan, he said.

Apollo’s shares have declined 29 percent since it announced its plan to acquire Cooper on June 12.

Cooper said in a Friday filing that the sale to Apollo may “impair the company’s ability to preserve employee morale and attract, retain and motivate key employees” until the deal is completed. An extended work stoppage at the Chinese joint venture plant “could negatively affect” the company’s future financial performance, Cooper said.

Chengshan Group, Cooper’s partner in China, said it had considered and ruled out topping Apollo’s offer for Cooper, according to a July 13 statement on its website.

On July 29, Chengshan filed a lawsuit in China to dissolve its joint venture with Cooper, saying that the proposed transaction caused the strike and subjects the venture to further operational risks. Cooper said it believes the complaint lacks merit and intends to “vigorously” defend the lawsuit.

Cooper Chengshan (Shandong) Tire Co., founded in 2006 in the eastern Chinese city of Rongcheng, has more than 5,000 workers and has the capacity to produce 15 million tires a year, according to its website. Cooper also has a wholly owned plant in Kunshan.

The work stoppage is unlikely to affect the pending acquisition and the company is working on getting the plant operating again, Cooper spokeswoman Anne L. Roman said in an email.


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