UPDATE 2-Unilever set to give up London HQ in Dutch shift – Sky News


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(Reuters) – Unilever (UNc.AS) (ULVR.L) is set to abandon its British headquarters as the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant moves to a sole legal home base in the Netherlands, Sky News reported on Wednesday.

The Unilever building is seen in London, Britain March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

A formal announcement is due on Thursday, said the report after a Wednesday board meeting to finalize the decision.

Unilever was not available for comment on a decision which would unpick a business model that dates back to 1930.

The maker of Dove soap and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream had last year announced a review of its dual-headed structure after rebuffing a $143 billion takeover offer from Kraft Heinz (KHC.O).

A move by Unilever, the second-biggest public company by value in the Netherlands and third-biggest in Britain, would be a blow to the British government as it prepares for next year’s exit from the European Union.

Unilever has held talks with the governments of both countries in the run-up to its decision.

It said last year that collapsing into a single entity would benefit the company and shareholders, partly by facilitating big-ticket M&A deals, but it delayed a decision on location amid heightened political sensitivity caused by Brexit.

In recent months, speculation about it choosing the Netherlands grew louder following the proposal of a tax change by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, himself a Unilever veteran, seen as benefiting Anglo-Dutch multinationals.

Since the 1930 merger of the Dutch margarine producer Margarine Unie and the British soap maker Lever Brothers, Unilever has operated with two parent companies – a British Plc headquartered in London and a Dutch NV based in Rotterdam.

Though run as one company, the distinct legal entities have different shareholders, separate stock listings and annual meetings and are subject to different laws and corporate governance requirements.

Unilever has said it planned to maintain stock market listings in the Netherlands, United Kingdom and United States and continue to apply both the UK and Dutch corporate governance codes.

It was unclear whether the company’s UK-listed shares would continue to be part of the bluechip FTSE 100 .FTSE index.

Some analysts point out that Dutch takeover law is more protective and speculate that a Dutch-headquartered Unilever could more easily fend off unwelcome suitors in the future.

Unilever itself has said the change is about simplification, arguing a single entity would be more agile as it could more easily issue equity for large acquisitions or spin off unwanted businesses.

Of Unilever’s 161,000 employees worldwide, 7,300 are in the United Kingdom and 3,100 are in the Netherlands.

The UK business is based in Unilever House, a large neoclassical art deco building on the banks of the River Thames.

Reporting by Rahul B in Bengaluru and Martinne Geller in LONDON; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Keith Weir


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