Investors should not despair – Unilever can still stay in the FTSE 100

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Bizarre and weirder, are the goings-on at Unilever.

First, the Anglo-Dutch family items large broadcasts it needs to base itself in simply a kind of two international locations: in Holland. Honest sufficient. Such convoluted buildings are anachronistic, and costly – owing extra to historical past, on this case 89 years, moderately than industrial logic.

However Unilever doesn’t spell out the precise the explanation why it needs to make the transfer, tending in direction of the opaque in its utterances. 

In keeping with chief govt Paul Polman, the choice to create one authorized entity headquartered in Holland was taken for “technical causes” and to make the corporate “extra agile”. The Metropolis noticed it extra clearly, persuaded that the Dutch location allowed it to make the most of legal guidelines that favour the defender in takeover bids – having beforehand nearly been caught within the sights of a doable merger within the UK. 

Usually, firms put their shareholders first, through which case Polman and his cohorts ought to realise that many traders, regardless of their assurances of loyalty, prefer to see some hypothesis about being taken over at some point constructed into the share worth. It doesn’t do any hurt to suppose that somebody may come alongside and have a crack – it retains the inventory effervescent properly. However not if the corporate goes to be integrated in not so bid-friendly, not so fizzing Holland. 

Regardless of the corporate’s sturdy protestations, inevitably there may be additionally a powerful whiff of a response to Brexit within the air. Polman is a powerful Remainer. The notion of his company one way or the other straddling each camps, in Brexit Britain and Remainer Netherlands, shouldn’t be solely tough to ponder in administration phrases, however should even be anathema to the Unilever boss. He’s selecting up his bag and leaving. 

After all, he’s ensuring he’s leaving lots behind, in order to not provoke an almighty row between the Brits and the Dutch, with Unilever caught within the center. So there are sweeteners galore, geared toward softening the blow and placating the UK authorities, politicians, unions and media. 

What’s most odd, although, is that Unilever doesn’t appear to have sounded out the authorities as to what the decamping will imply for its FTSE 100 membership. Odd, as a result of Unilever is normally essentially the most cautious of firms. It’s not as if this change was sudden – it had been mooted for a number of months. But, Unilever, if its traders are to be believed, is eager to inform them it’s as much as them to establish the ramifications. 

On the face of it, the finding of a domicile abroad ought to sign sport over the place the FTSE 100 is worried. This may see the trackers and exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, the establishments that maintain shares in each FTSE 100 constituent, being pressured to dump their investments – and pushing down the Unilever share worth. Cue fury among the many Unilever shareholders. 

And the bit I’ve not declared is that these are individuals who require wooing, not antagonism. For Unilever’s shift to undergo, it wants the approval of 75 per cent of the UK shareholders. 

To try to win them spherical, in once more an uncharacteristically brazen gesture, Unilever guarantees a £four.3bn share buyback. They aren’t too impressed, with extra traders coming ahead to say they are going to vote down the Dutch deal. 

Then comes one other twist. It emerges in Holland that the premier, Mark Rutte, is ready to scrap the nation’s dividend tax to convey the corporate throughout – a ploy thought to be “decisive” in influencing the agency’s alternative, in line with leaked memos. 

Now the Brexit blue contact paper is lit. A Remainer CEO needs to abandon Britain to be along with his Remainer friends within the EU, who will cease at nothing to easy his step. Not solely have they got takeover legal guidelines that kind an efficient protectionist defend, opposite to the one market free transference perfect, however now they’re keen to skew their tax code as properly. These Dutch Remainers are enjoying soiled, doing something to name one of many world’s largest firms their very own. 

Unilever could also be providing all types of goodies to Britain, however the actuality is laid naked by the Dutch need to land their prize. It’s a fillip to their financial status, and a kick within the enamel for Britain’s. An organization that may hint its roots proper again to the inspiration of Lever Brothers and the manufacturing of cleaning soap, is upping and leaving – and its chosen vacation spot is making doubly certain it jumps. 

The hurt to the UK, symbolically, is critical. However the harm it does to the Metropolis of London’s declare to be a world cash magnet, the primary website for company capital-raising, and to its well-known checklist of shares, is arguably a lot better. Simply because the Sq. Mile faces an unsure Brexit future, keeping off challenges from wannabe leaders in EU centres and elsewhere, comes Unilever’s vote of no confidence. 

There’s, although, an neglected issue, one which an alliance of irritated shareholders and impassioned Brexiteers may seize upon: there is no such thing as a purpose why the corporate can’t grasp on to its place within the FTSE 100. 

Whether or not it leaves the FTSE 100 or should go is fully on the discretion of FTSE Russell, the organisation that administers the share index. There are precedents for firms now not integrated within the UK being allowed to stay on the massive board. British Airways is now a part of IAG, headquartered in Spain – IAG is a part of the FTSE 100. The vacation operator, TUI, higher referred to as First Alternative, is run out of Germany – TUI is a part of the FTSE. Commodities titan, Glencore, relies in Switzerland – Glencore sits proudly within the FTSE 100. 

Unilever can depart, or not less than have a head workplace in Holland, and be legally situated abroad. It might probably benefit from the Dutch takeover defences, and luxuriate in a rustic freed from a dividend tax. And its chief can really feel comfy within the EU, amongst his Remainer mates. However Unilever can nonetheless be a FTSE 100 member, nonetheless supported by the trackers and ETFs. And London can look the identical because it did earlier than – albeit minus a brass plate bearing Unilever’s title. Even essentially the most ardent Brexiteers can absolutely dwell with that. 

Buyers, politicians, commentators – they should make their emotions identified to FTSE Russell. All is way from misplaced. 

Chris Blackhurst is a former editor of The Unbiased, and govt director of C|T|F Companions, the campaigns and strategic communications advisory agency

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