L’Oréal Says Has Means to Buy Nestlé’s Stake

L'Oréal Sunset Collection Campaign | Source: L'Oréal

PARIS, France — French cosmetics giant L’Oréal has the resources to buy back the 23 billion euro ($30 billion) stake Nestlé holds in it, the company’s boss said on Friday, though he steered clear of pledging such a move.

Speculation that L’Oréal could repurchase Nestlé’s holding once the Swiss food company is free to sell next April helped lift its shares as much as 6 percent. The move would allow the Paris-based group to secure its independence.

By 0946 GMT, the shares were up 4.4 percent at 127 euros, valuing France’s third-largest listed group in terms of market capitalisation at 77.2 billion euros.

“The stock is somewhat inflated by hope, expectation that Nestlé will sell its stake in L’Oréal and that L’Oréal will undertake a mega buy-back of the shares, which would be significantly accretive,” Bernstein analyst Andrew Wood said.

At a press conference on Friday L’Oréal Chief Executive Jean-Paul Agon sought to clarify comments made earlier to Les Echos newspaper, which quoted him as saying all options were on the table.

“I didn’t say that we wished to buy Nestlé’s holding,” Agon said. “I simply said that we had significant financial resources because we have positive cash flow and the 9 percent of Sanofi.”

L’Oréal’s 9 percent holding in Sanofi is significant. The drugmaker is France’s second-biggest company, with a market value of close to 100 billion euros. L’Oréal had net cash of 572 million on its balance sheet at the end of June.

Agon reiterated that L’Oréal could sell the Sanofi stake to help fund acquisitions.

“The cash is there to use,” he said. “We will see if the opportunities are there to use it. We have always said that our stake in Sanofi is financial and not strategic so therefore we could use it if an opportunity presented itself.”

Agon was presenting the company’s results for the first half, which saw improved margins and a nearly 8 percent rise in first-half operating profit.