Whirlpool Cleans Up Stake in China's Hefei Rongshida

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Benton Harbor, Mich. appliance maker Whirlpool (WHR), the maker of Maytag washing machines, said Tuesday it will take a 51% stake in Chinese counterpart Hefei Rongshida Sanyo Electric for RMB3.4 billion ($552 million) in cash.

The longtime American manufacturing player hopes to better tap Asia's expanding middle class through the deal.

"This acquisition allows the company to build on, complement, and grow its position in the emerging Chinese market and to leverage our global enterprise for greater efficiencies," said Whirlpool CEO and chairman Jeff Fettig in a release Tuesday. "We will leverage the technology capabilities of Hefei Sanyo and provide the investments to enhance research and development capabilities."

The deal is expected to close by the end of 2014 and should be accretive in the first full year of integration, Whirlpool said. The transaction carries a $20 million break-up fee.

Hefei Rongshida, based in Hefei, China, was founded in 1994 and reported $636 million in sales, $59 million in Ebitda, and $48 million in net earnings for 2012. Led by chairman Jin Youhua, it employs about 10,000 people and manufactures washers, refrigerators, and microwave ovens under the Sanyo, Rongshida/Royal Star and Diqua brands. It has three manufacturing locations in the country.

The acquired business is structured as a joint venture between Chinese appliance syndicate Hefei Rongshida Group, Panasonic ( PCRFY) subsidiary Sanyo Electric of Japan, and that company's Chinese affiliate Sanyo Electric (China).

The target has been listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange since July 2004, and its main shareholders are Hefei State-owned Assets Holding with about a 33.5% stake, and Sanyo Electric and affiliates with about 29.5% of the company.

A Whirlpool subsidiary will acquire all shares currently owned by Sanyo Electric and its China affiliate, and purchase new Hefei Sanyo shares via a private placement, the buyer said.

Demand for middle class accouterments, like appliances, is growing in China as labor-market, financial system, and policy reforms push wages higher, while the role of private enterprise increases. This leaves more money for discretionary purchases by consumers.

By 2022, more than 75% of China's urban consumers will earn RMB60,000 to RMB229,000 annually or between $9,000 and $34,000 a year, according to a June 2013 report from business research and consulting firm McKinsey & Co. These figures are broadly considered middle income levels for China, the report said. Another Midwestern manufacturer, Van Buren Township, Mich.-based Visteon ( VC), struck a deal in China Tuesday, with its sale of Yanfeng Visteon Automotive Trim Systems to partner Huayu Automotive Systems, or Hasco, for $1.25 billion. Visteon also paid $70 million to Hasco to gain majority control of Yanfeng Visteon Automotive Electronics, a related auto electronics entity.

Whirlpool had annual sales of approximately $18 billion in 2012, 68,000 employees, and 65 manufacturing and tech research centers globally. The company sells the Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, Amana, Brastemp, Consul, Bauknecht appliance brands. It was founded in 1898.

Whirlpool didn't return calls seeking further comment on the Tuesday.Whirlpool has a market capitalization of about $10.6 billion. Shares fell 81 cents, or 60% to $134.25 Tuesday afternoon.

Hefei Rongshida Sanyo Electric has a market value of RMB5.3 billion. Shares closed up .50% to RMB9.96 Tuesday.

-- Written by Thomas Zadvydas in New York

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