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Shareholders at Unaxis clash over ownership

The fight for Unaxis is not over yet. UNAXIS

The Austrian investment group Victory - the main shareholder of technology corporation Unaxis - is continuing its battle for control of the Swiss group.

This content was published on April 26, 2005 - 21:49

It has demanded that all decisions at Tuesday’s annual meeting of Unaxis shareholders be annulled and has called for a fresh meeting.

An extraordinary shareholders’ meeting will be the next step in an acrimonious ownership war between Victory and the company’s founding family, which has a stake of about 20 per cent.

Victory, which is owned by Austrian investor Mirko Kovats and his partner Ronny Pecik, has raised its stake in the loss-making company to 34 per cent in recent weeks.

But because of an April 5 cut-off date for registering voting rights for Tuesday’s meeting in the central city of Lucerne, the Austrians had only a voting stake of 16.4 per cent.

Victory has therefore demanded that all decisions taken be annulled and subjected to a fresh vote.

Another clash

A Unaxis spokesman said that a special shareholders’ meeting would be held within ten weeks. Another clash between Victory and the Unaxis board of directors seems unavoidable.

Shareholders in Lucerne approved all motions submitted by the board, including the cancellation of the "opting out" clause, which obliges investors holding more than 33.33 per cent to make a takeover offer.

But Victory, which withdrew its four candidates to the board and voted against all the motions, could be exempt from this decision as it had built up its stake before the meeting.

Investors also approved the par value reduction to SFr14 ($11.77) per share, returning about SFr200 million to shareholders.

The Austrian group tried to reassure stakeholders that it had no intention of raiding the SFr625 million Unaxis holds in cash.

Incredible potential

"We are here because we believe in [Unaxis’s] products. [We see] incredible potential in Unaxis," Pecik told them.

Unaxis, which produces chip-assembly machines and coatings systems, was forced to issue a series of profit warnings last year, as high production costs were compounded by unfavourable exchange rates and a sector downturn.

In March the company, formerly Oerlikon-Bührle, posted a loss of SFr378 million for 2004.

Unaxis has gone through several management changes and has launched a major restructuring effort in an attempt to turn the tide, focusing on its thin film and vacuum technology businesses.

The company intends to spin off its semiconductor business by either listing it on the stock exchange or selling it. It is also in talks to sell its displays unit.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Chronology:

2000: The Oerlikon-Bührle group was renamed Unaxis. The former weapons manufacturer was transformed into a technology corporation in the 1990s.
November 2004: The company decided to concentrate on its thin film and vacuum technology units, cutting 500 jobs in its semiconductor equipment business.
February 2005: Victory of Austria buys a 12 per cent stake in Unaxis. The Bührle family (21.5 per cent) and Zurich cantonal bank (11.26 per cent) were the only large shareholders up to that point.
March 2005: Unaxis reports loss of SFr378 milion for 2004.
April 2005: Victory uses options to reach a stake of 34.04 per cent in Unaxis.

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In brief

The battle for ownership of Unaxis, formerly Oerlikon-Bührle, looks set to continue with Austrian investment group Victory challenging decisions made on Tuesday at the annual shareholders’ meeting in Lucerne.

Victory has built up a 34 per cent share in the company and wants a controlling stake.

A Unaxis spokesman says a special shareholders’ meeting will take place within the next ten weeks.

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