Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Smurfit Kappa declines to unpack details of WestRock acquisition

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The chairman of Smurfit Kappa has urged shareholders anxious for further information about the Dublin-listed group’s acquisition of US paper and packaging rival WestRock to be patient, after declining to answer questions on the subject at its annual general meeting in Dublin on Friday.

Announced last September, the tie-up – which is expected to be completed in July and would create the world’s largest box-maker – remains subject to shareholder approval.

At the meeting in the Minerva suite of the RDS, Smurfit Kappa chairman Irial Finan said the company would not be able to answer questions about the deal from shareholders due to US securities laws.

In previous years the group has released its first-quarter trading update to coincide with its agm. However, Mr Finan said this year it was not possible to do so because of the various “pressures” associated with the WestRock deal. Smurfit Kappa will issue the update next Thursday.

Mr Finan said that all he could say was that the “integration planning is progressing as expected and we’re increasingly excited about the potential for the combination”.

One small shareholder in Smurfit Kappa expressed surprise that no further information would be given and that group chief executive Tony Smurfit would not be speaking at the meeting, which lasted no more than 15 minutes.

“I’m a bit baffled with everything that’s been thrown at us since the combination has been announced,” he said. “There has been a lot of comment on it.”

He said he understood that one institutional shareholder in the group had questioned the business case for the tie-up with WestRock and claimed it had been given further information.

Mr Finan assured the shareholder that this was not the case. “There will be an egm [extraordinary general meeting], which we expect to take place in mid-June and you will have all the necessary information. So if you could bear with us, we have to comply with the rule,” he said.

“No shareholder has received information over and above what you have received,” Mr Finan told the shareholder. “We have to be fair and balanced. You must be treated the exact same way as any other shareholder.”

Mr Finan said 2023 had been Smurfit Kappa’s second-best financial year in its 90-year history, with revenue of €11.3 billion, earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (ebitda) of €2.08 billion and an adjusted earnings margin of 18.5 per cent, in line with 2022.

“Performance remains strong in 2024,” he said.

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