Merck picks Goldman Sachs to launch pigments sale in 2023


German diversified group Merck KGaA (MRCG.DE) has tapped Goldman Sachs (GS.N) to revive a $1 billion sale of its pigments division after previous attempts to sell the business fell through during the pandemic, three sources said.

The business, known as Surface Solutions, has already drawn interest from Austrian rival Heubach, owned by SK Capital Partners, one of the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Surface Solutions makes pigments for a pearlescent or metallic shine in coatings, plastics and cosmetics and could be valued at about 1 billion euros ($1.03 billion), the sources said.

The sale is expected to kick off next year once market conditions improve, they said.

Merck and Goldman Sachs declined to comment while Heubach and SK Capital were not immediately available for comment.

Heubach, in partnership with SK Capital, bought Clariant’s pigments business last year, creating a global pigment technology and industry leader.

If successful, the sale would underpin Merck’s ambitions to pursue larger takeover deals worth as much as 20 billion euros from next year after having reduced its debt.

The family-controlled group is seeking to expand in specialty materials for electronics, lab equipment and biotech services as well as selected areas of drug development.

Surface Solutions reported an 11% rise in revenue last year to 410 million euros, recovering from a slump in 2020 due to the pandemic, Merck’s 2021 annual report showed.

The business could be valued at more than ten times its core earnings of 80 to 90 million euros, one of the sources said.

Merck is in no rush to launch the sale as Surface Solutions has yet to improve margins so it can command a price roughly on par with the 1.15 billion euro enterprise value that BASF (BASFn.DE) achieved in the sale of its pigments business to Japan’s DIC Corp in 2019, one of the sources said.

($1 = 0.9646 euros)