Zhongwang USA LLC, led by Chinese billionaire Liu Zhongtian, founder of China Zhongwang Holdings Ltd (HKEX: 01333), the world’s second largest industrial aluminum extrusion developer and manufacturer, agreed to acquire Cleveland, Ohio-based Aleris Corp., a global aluminum rolled products producer, for $2.33 billion, comprising $1.11 billion in cash and $1.22 billion in debt.

Since 2010, Aleris has been owned and controlled by private equity firms Oaktree Capital Management LP (NYSE: OAK), Apollo Management LP (NYSE: APO), and Sankaty Advisors LLC owning minority interests.

Aleris will continue with the implementation of its “major expansion project in Lewisport, Kentucky, to meet the North American automotive industry’s growing demand for aluminum auto body sheet,” the company said, adding that it will retain its name and continue to serve its customers with no changes to current operations, contracts or strategic growth projects. The company will remain headquartered in Cleveland, and will be operated as an independent entity, with its current management team in place.

Aleris operates production facilities in North America, Europe and Asia, serving aerospace, automotive, building and construction, commercial transportation and industrial manufacturing industries.

The deal marks the biggest entry by a Chinese company into the U.S. aluminum industry since trade tensions began ramping up in recent years, said Reuters, adding that Zhongwang has been accused of evading U.S. import duties on extruded products, prompting an investigation by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“Auto manufacturers like Ford Motor Co have been moving toward aluminum, which is lighter than steel, to reduce body weight of autos in order to improve gasoline mileage, which will reduce emissions,” Reuters added.

“We are excited about this transition to strategic ownership as it will allow us to accelerate our strategy to expand our capabilities to support the production of high-value advanced materials for the global automotive and aerospace markets, while maintaining our position as a leading supplier to critical regional markets like building and construction,” said Sean Stack, president and CEO of Aleris.

“This acquisition is an international expansion to establish a complementary business foothold, as I strongly believe in the potential and prospects of Aleris and the aluminum industry as a whole,” said Liu Zhongtian, in a bet that the nascent U.S. automotive aluminum sector will be the industry’s next big growth market. “I believe Aleris is well-positioned to capitalize on the positive demand trends we see globally,” he added.

The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2017, subject to customary regulatory approvals and closing conditions.

Credit Suisse acted as financial advisor to Aleris. Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Jacobson LLP acted as legal advisors. Moelis & Co. advised the Aleris Board on certain aspects of this transaction. Paul, Weiss, Wharton & Garrison LLP acted as legal advisors to Oaktree Capital Management.

Photo: Liu Zhongtian, Chairman, China Zhongwang Holdings. (SCMP/Dickson Lee)



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