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Austrians win Unaxis takeover battle

Kovats (right) and Pecik have had their eyes on Unaxis for some time Keystone

The founding family of loss-making Swiss technology firm Unaxis is to sell its remaining stake in the company to Austrian investment group Victory.

The move – which is to take place in two stages – brings to an end an acrimonious takeover battle.

Victory had set its sights on taking control of Unaxis and recently raised its stake to an estimated 40 per cent to become the company’s largest shareholder.

The Anda-Bührle family has until now fought off moves by the investment group to increase its stake further and take majority control of the firm.

But on Monday the family confirmed the sale of their stake of just over 20 per cent, adding that it would take place in two steps after “certain conditions have been met”.

The sale of the stake, owned indirectly through holding company Ihag, is due to be completed by June 20. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The power struggle should definitely be decided by this,” said Zurich Cantonal Bank in a note.

Victory executives have been quoted as saying they do not intend to resell their Unaxis stake in the near future, and a full takeover remains an option.

But Victory board member Felice De Grandi declined to comment on the group’s plans.

“We do not want to comment on whether we will make a takeover offer for the remaining shares,” he said.

Restructuring underway

News of the sale comes less than a month after Unaxis announced plans to cut 220 jobs by the end of 2006 as part of ongoing efforts to restructure the company.

The technology group – which reported a net loss of SFr378 million ($320 million) for 2004 – estimates the cost of restructuring will reach SFr40 million by the end of 2006.

Unaxis, formed in 2000 following the break-up of Switzerland’s Oerlikon-Bührle industrial and defence group, makes chip-making machines and coating systems.

Although the firm remains one of Switzerland’s technological heavyweights, the company has suffered in recent years from a combination of alleged management problems, difficult market conditions and what many analysts see as the lack of a clear strategy.

Victory is owned by Austrian investors Mirko Kovats and Ronny Pecik. They staged a showdown with the Unaxis founding family at the company’s annual general meeting in April.

Unaxis, which is to hold an extraordinary general meeting on June 28 in Lucerne, saw its stock fall more than two per cent to SFr175.90 during mid-morning trade on Monday.

swissinfo with agencies

Unaxis reported a net loss of SFr378 million ($320 million) for 2004.
The company has its headquarters in Pfäffikon, canton Schwyz.
It has 80 subsidiaries in 25 countries.
Unaxis currently has a 6,800-strong staff.

Timeline for Victory’s bid to take control of Unaxis:

February 11: Victory takes 12% stake.

February 23: Victory increases stake to 21.6% – this later rises to around 40%.

April 26: Unaxis founding family temporarily fends off Victory advances at company AGM.

May 23: Family announces intention to sell its stake of just over 20% to Victory.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR