LONDON – Unilever, parent of brands ranging from Dove to Ben & Jerry’s, has shelved a decision to move to the Netherlands after major institutional shareholders said they would vote against it.
The consumer goods giant has a dual-headed corporate structure, with headquarters in London and Rotterdam, and is quoted on the London Stock Exchange and in Amsterdam.
Unilever announced the move earlier this year and said the single corporate structure would create a simpler, more agile and more focused company “with increased strategic flexibility for value-creating portfolio change.”
Shareholders had earlier been consulted by Unilever, but changed their minds due to the potential tax implications of holding shares in the Netherlands and the consequences of Unilever’s delisting from the London Stock Exchange.
Unilever is one of the top companies in the FTSE 100 with a market value of about 124 billion pounds. It had been looking to making its final move to the Netherlands by the end of the year.
In the past week alone, top Unilever shareholders including Columbia Threadneedle, Schroder Investment Management and Legal & General all said they would vote against the move.
Unilever said in developing the proposal, the board had been guided by “the opportunity to unlock value for our shareholders by creating a stronger, simpler and more competitive Unilever that is better positioned for long-term success.”
The corporate giant said it had an extensive period of engagement with shareholders and had received widespread support for the principle behind simplification.
“However, we recognize that the proposal has not received support from a significant group of shareholders, and therefore consider it appropriate to withdraw.”
Marijn Dekkers, the company’s chairman, added: “Unilever has built a long track record of consistent and competitive performance. The board continues to believe that simplifying our dual-headed structure would, over time, provide opportunities to further accelerate value creation and serve the best long-term interests of Unilever.”
He said the board will consider its next steps and continue to engage with shareholders.
In a report published Friday, UBS said it believes the market’s focus will now shift to the next steps that Unilever might take, corporate governance improvements under the current structure, and the operational performance of the company.
“It is not clear at this stage whether an alternative proposal will be posed at a subsequent date, but given the board’s belief that a unified structure is in the best interests of the company, we would expect Unilever to assess other options and come up with a new proposal in the future,” the bank said.
It added that while the board might come up with a new plan in the future, “we think the removal of this (option) in the short term leaves the valuation more dependent on operating performance. However, the stock’s continued inclusion in the FTSE 100 index and the cancellation of the preference shares are positives.”
On Friday, Unilever also announced plans to cancel the Unilever NV preference shares, which currently account for 1 percent of outstanding shares, but 20 percent of the company’s voting rights.
The company plans to release its third-quarter results on Oct. 18. The company has adjourned its general meetings for Unilever NV and for Unilever PLC shareholders on Oct. 25 and 26, respectively.
Unilever closed down 0.6 percent at 40.53 pounds on the London Stock Exchange on Friday.