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Originally published Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 5:13 AM

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Redmond's Univar plans biggest local IPO since 2000

Chemical-distribution giant Univar has filed to raise up to $862 million in the largest initial public offering of stock proposed by a local company since AT&T Wireless.

Seattle Times business reporter

Chemical-distribution giant Univar, one of the Puget Sound region's biggest yet lowest-profile companies, filed Wednesday to raise up to $862 million in an initial public stock offering.

If the Redmond company succeeds in selling that much stock — not a certainty given the patchy IPO market these days — it would be the largest IPO of a Northwest company since AT&T Wireless in 2000.

Univar supplies commodity and specialty chemicals to a host of manufacturing industries, including producers of paints and coatings, energy, food products, home and industrial cleaners, and other chemicals.

It is the leading independent chemical distributor in the United States and Canada and the second-biggest in Europe. U.S. sales account for 58.8 percent of Univar's gross sales; Europe makes up 23.9 percent and Canada 16 percent.

Earlier this year, Univar moved to strengthen its position in Europe by agreeing to buy Quaron Group, which distributes commodity chemicals in France, Belgium and the Netherlands, for $130 million. The deal is expected to close sometime in the third quarter.

The company generated $7.2 billion in net sales last year, down 23.7 percent from 2008 as the global recession cut deeply into demand. Total shipments fell to 5.4 million metric tons from 6.5 million metric tons.

The company has posted narrow losses for the past three years, primarily because of interest payments on its relatively heavy debt load. As of March 31, Univar had nearly $1.7 billion in long-term debt and a capitalization ratio of 79 percent; much of the IPO's proceeds, in fact, would go pay down the debt.

As of March 31, Univar had about 6,800 full-time employees worldwide.

Univar has an unusually complicated history that dates back to its founding in 1924 as a broker of naval equipment, paint, cotton linters and other industrial goods. For years the company bore the names of its two founders, George Van Waters and Nat Rogers; it adopted the Univar name in 1974.

Univar grew through a long series of deals and spun off several companies. Its stock traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker UVX until 1996, when it was bought out by the Dutch transport and storage company Royal Pakhoed.

A few years later, Pakhoed merged with another Dutch oil-shipping and storage company. The combined firm, Vopak, decided the chemical-distribution business didn't really fit and split it off in 2002.

The newly independent company traded on the Euronext Amsterdam exchange for five years until it was taken private by CVC Capital Partners, a London private-equity firm.

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Through several layers of funds, partnerships and holding companies, CVC currently owns 74.3 percent of Univar. Parcom, a Dutch investment firm, has a 12.1 percent stake; Goldman Sachs owns 4.7 percent, and company management holds 8.8 percent.

The terms of the IPO — including how many new shares would be sold at what price and whether existing shareholders would seek to cash out part of their stakes — have not yet been set, though CVC Capital intends to remain Univar's majority shareholder.

Nor has it been decided on which exchange Univar shares would trade and under what ticker symbol, though UVX is still available.

Drew DeSilver: 206-464-3145 or ddesilver@seattletimes.com

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