Cleveland-Cliffs to merge with AK Steel

CLEVELAND & WEST CHESTER, Ohio (WLUC & AP) - Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. is merging with an Ohio-based steel manufacturer and producer in a stock deal valued at about $1.1 billion.

Logos courtesy of Cleveland-Cliffs and AK Steel

Cliffs announced Tuesday morning that it has entered into a definitive merger agreement with AK Steel Holding Corporation, which is headquartered near Cincinnati, Ohio.

Cliffs says it will acquire all of the issued and outstanding shares of AK Steel common stock. Lourenco Goncalves, Chairman of the Board, President and CEO of Cliffs, will lead the expanded organization.

Goncalves says the expanded organization will provide flexibility to pursue additional growth opportunities, but he didn't specifically mention the idled Empire Mine in his Tuesday morning statement or conference call.

"Cliffs’ existing strong balance sheet and self-sufficiency in pellets for the combined company provide flexibility to pursue additional growth opportunities, including the potential future utilization of the blast furnace in Ashland to produce merchant pig iron, an opportunity neither company could pursue on a standalone basis," said Goncalves.

After a brief spike in steel prices, U.S. steel producers have struggled since the Trump administration put steel tariffs into place last year. Domestic demand has slumped along with the energy sector as drillers pull back on purchases of steel pipe.

The companies said Tuesday that they are creating a vertically integrated business. Cliffs, North America's largest producer of iron ore pellets, would get access to AK Steel's flat-rolled carbon, stainless and electrical steel products operations.

The entire press release from Cleveland-Cliffs is below.

Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. (NYSE: CLF) and AK Steel Holding Corporation (NYSE: AKS) are pleased to announce that they have entered into a definitive merger agreement pursuant to which Cliffs will acquire all of the issued and outstanding shares of AK Steel common stock. Lourenco Goncalves, Chairman of the Board, President and CEO of Cliffs, will lead the expanded organization.

Under the terms of the merger agreement, AK Steel shareholders will receive 0.40 shares of Cliffs common stock for each outstanding share of AK Steel common stock they own. Upon completion of the transaction, Cliffs shareholders will own approximately 68% and AK Steel shareholders will own approximately 32% of the combined company, respectively, on a fully diluted basis.

The fixed exchange ratio implies a consideration of $3.36 per share of AK Steel common stock and represents a premium of 16% based on the closing share prices of Cliffs and AK Steel common shares, respectively, as of December 2, 2019, and a premium of 27% based on the 30-day volume weighted average price of AK Steel common shares. The transaction implies an aggregate consideration to AK Steel shareholders of approximately $1.1 billion on a fully diluted basis, a total enterprise value of approximately $3.0 billion for AK Steel and an acquisition multiple of 5.6x LTM Adjusted EBITDA.

The transaction will combine Cliffs, North America’s largest producer of iron ore pellets, with AK Steel, a leading producer of innovative flat-rolled carbon, stainless and electrical steel products, to create a vertically integrated producer of value-added iron ore and steel products. The combined company will be ideally positioned to provide high-value iron ore and steel solutions to customers primarily across North America.

Mr. Goncalves stated: “We are excited to be able to deliver real value to the shareholders of both Cliffs and AK Steel through a value enhancing and leverage-neutral transaction. By combining the best-in-class quality of AK Steel’s assets and its enviable product mix with Cliffs’ debt profile and proven management team, we are creating a premier North American company, self-sufficient in iron ore pellets and geared toward high value-added steel products.”

He continued, “The pro forma Cliffs will be a vertically integrated steel company that is expected to drive improved profitability for existing Cliffs and AK Steel shareholders and is well-positioned to serve both the blast furnace and electric arc furnace segments. In addition, Cliffs’ existing strong balance sheet and self-sufficiency in pellets for the combined company provide flexibility to pursue additional growth opportunities, including the potential future utilization of the blast furnace in Ashland to produce merchant pig iron, an opportunity neither company could pursue on a standalone basis.”

Mr. Goncalves concluded, “For Cliffs, we expect to realize immediate growth and a long-desired objective of a more diverse customer base, as well as more predictable cash flow generation due to the contracted nature of AK Steel’s sales of high-end automotive steel. Our track record of providing high-grade iron ore combined with AK Steel’s recognized ability to produce the highest quality steel grades, creates a highly complementary and compelling business model. We look forward to welcoming the AK Steel team into our organization and creating a unique company focused on executing value-enhancing opportunities for all of our stakeholders.”

Roger K. Newport, CEO of AK Steel, added, “We believe this transaction is a compelling opportunity for AK Steel shareholders to participate in the substantial upside potential of what will be a premier vertically integrated producer of value-added iron ore and steel products with significant scale and diversification. Our shareholders will benefit from exposure to a larger, more diversified company that is better positioned to capitalize on growth opportunities. The combination of Cliffs’ iron ore pellet capabilities and our innovative, high-quality steel product development and production is strategically compelling. Together, we expect to be able to take advantage of growth opportunities faster and more fully than either company could on its own. With AK Steel’s 120-year heritage, which began in Ohio, and expertise in steelmaking, AK Steel and Cliffs make an excellent combination, which we expect will facilitate a smooth integration process.”

Key Strategic & Financial Benefits

• Brings together complementary businesses to create company with full suite of value-added products: The combination will create significant opportunities to generate additional value from market trends across the entire steel value chain and enable more consistent, predictable performance through market cycles. The integrated supply chain provides AK Steel self-sufficiency in iron ore supply. Together, Cliffs and AK Steel will have a presence across the entire manufacturing process, from mining to pelletizing to the development and production of finished high value steel products, including Next Generation Advanced High Strength Steels for automotive and other markets.

• Solidifies demand for Cliffs’ pellet offtake, with potential for growth into merchant pig iron: The combined company will ensure pellet volume commitments to AK Steel’s blast furnaces along with Cliffs’ Toledo hot briquetted iron facility, to complement its existing long-term minimum volume pellet offtake agreements with other key integrated steel producers. Further, the potential startup of pig iron manufacturing at AK Steel’s facility in Ashland, Kentucky would create future opportunities for pellet demand and more metallics products without significant additional capital expenditures.

• Accretion through significant annual synergies: The transaction offers significant potential for operational synergies, which will contribute to long-term value creation for investors. The combination is expected to generate approximately $120 million of annual cost synergies to be fully realized within the first 12 months after closing, primarily from consolidating corporate functions, reducing duplicative overhead costs, and procurement and energy cost savings, as well as operational and supply chain efficiencies.

• Stronger company with compelling pro forma financial metrics: The combined company is expected to benefit from a larger and more diversified base of customers, with less overall emphasis on commodity-linked contracts. For the last twelve months, the pro forma combined company has generated net revenue of $8.2 billion1, Adjusted EBITDA of $1.3 billion2 and unlevered free cash flow of $923 million2,3. The transaction will also be leverage-neutral with pro forma Total Debt to Adjusted EBITDA of 3.5x.

Additional Transaction Details & Governance

Following completion of the transaction, with Mr. Goncalves leading the expanded organization, Mr. Newport will retire as CEO and a Director of AK Steel. Three existing members of AK Steel’s Board of Directors will join the Cliffs Board, and two existing Cliffs Board members will step down, bringing the Cliffs Board to 12 members in total. AK Steel will become a direct, wholly-owned subsidiary of Cliffs and will retain its branding and corporate identity. Cliffs will continue to be listed on the NYSE with its headquarters in Cleveland, while maintaining a significant presence at AK Steel’s current offices in West Chester, Ohio along with its Research and Innovation Center in Middletown, Ohio.

The transaction is expected to close in the first half of 2020, subject to approval by the shareholders of both companies, receipt of regulatory approvals and satisfaction of other customary closing conditions.

Cliffs has obtained an approximately $2 billion financing commitment from Credit Suisse in connection with a new Asset Backed Loan and the refinancing of AK Steel’s 2023 senior secured notes.

Advisors and Counsel

Moelis & Company LLC and Credit Suisse are acting as financial advisors to Cliffs and Jones Day is serving as legal counsel. Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC is acting as financial advisor to AK Steel and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP is serving as legal counsel.

Board of Directors’ Recommendation

The transaction has been unanimously approved by both companies’ Boards, and both Boards recommend that their respective shareholders vote in favor of the transaction.

Joint Conference Call & Webcast Information

Cleveland-Cliffs and AK Steel will conduct a live conference call and webcast on December 3, 2019 at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time. The call will be broadcast live and archived on Cliffs' website at www.clevelandcliffs.com and on AK Steel’s website at www.aksteel.com. Presentation slides will also be available on the webcast link and on both companies’ Investor Relations pages on their websites, as well as through the joint transaction website at www.clevelandcliffsaksteel.acquisitionannouncement.com.

About Cleveland-Cliffs

Founded in 1847, Cleveland-Cliffs is the largest and oldest independent iron ore mining company in the United States. The company is a major supplier of iron ore pellets to the North American steel industry from its mines and pellet plants located in Michigan and Minnesota. By 2020, Cleveland-Cliffs expects to be the sole producer of hot briquetted iron (HBI) in the Great Lakes region with the development of its first production plant in Toledo, Ohio. Driven by the core values of safety, social, environmental and capital stewardship, Cleveland-Cliffs’ employees endeavor to provide all stakeholders with operating and financial transparency. For more information, visit http://www.clevelandcliffs.com.

About AK Steel

AK Steel is a leading producer of flat-rolled carbon, stainless and electrical steel products, primarily for the automotive, infrastructure and manufacturing, including electrical power, and distributors and converters markets. Through its subsidiaries, the company also provides customer solutions with carbon and stainless steel tubing products, hot- and cold-stamped components, and die design and tooling. Headquartered in West Chester, Ohio (Greater Cincinnati), the company has approximately 9,500 employees at manufacturing operations in the United States, Canada and Mexico, and facilities in Western Europe. Additional information about AK Steel is available at www.aksteel.com.



 
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