Indian Firm Wants Ohio Aluminum Maker. Will Trump Approve?
Last year, the Trump administration blocked a Chinese company from buying an Ohio-based aluminum maker, Aleris, citing concerns about national security.
Will President Donald Trump and his advisers feel differently about an Indian company purchasing Aleris instead?
On Thursday, one of India’s biggest industrial conglomerates, the Aditya Birla Group, announced that its aluminum and copper subsidiary had struck a deal to buy Aleris for $2.6 billion, including the assumption of existing debt.
The transaction would make the Birla subsidiary, called Hindalco, the second-largest aluminum producer in the world by volume, after China Hongqiao Group.
Under federal rules, the deal requires approval by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a secretive panel of government officials that advises the president on whether to stop acquisitions of U.S. companies by foreigners.
In recent years, the panel, known as CFIUS, has been particularly skeptical of Chinese companies seeking to buy U.S. businesses in important industries like computer chips and financial services.
Last summer, CFIUS refused to sign off on a proposed $2.3 billion purchase of Aleris by a company controlled by the Chinese metals magnate Liu Zhongtian. That effectively killed the deal and pushed Aleris’ investors — principally Oaktree Capital Management, Apollo Global Management and Bain Capital — to find another buyer.
The Indian transaction could be one of the first reviewed under a new law, expected to be passed by Congress soon, to broaden the powers of CFIUS.
Hindalco executives said they did not anticipate running into the same difficulties that the Chinese buyer had encountered.
But Kumar Mangalam Birla, who leads the Aditya Birla Group, noted that Trump is unpredictable.
“We don’t know how he thinks,” Birla said at a news conference in Mumbai, where his company has its headquarters.
The Trump administration has been trying to build a stronger relationship with India as a counterweight to China. At the same time, trade tensions have been rising.
Trump has lashed out at India’s high tariffs on products like Harley-Davidson motorcycles. His recent imposition of tariffs on imported steel and aluminum has hurt Indian producers, prompting India to respond with higher tariffs on U.S. almonds, apples, shrimp, and iron and steel products.
Hindalco already has a large U.S. subsidiary, Novelis, that is based in Atlanta and would merge with Aleris.
Novelis dominates the aluminum can business and is a major supplier to the auto industry. Aleris, which is based in suburban Cleveland, would bring strong positions in aluminum for buildings and airplanes and a newly expanded factory in Lewisport, Kentucky, that serves automakers.
“We’re investing in the U.S.,” Devinder Ahuja, the chief financial officer of Novelis, said in an interview. “We’re creating jobs in the U.S. That’s what the U.S. administration wants.”
Ahuja said that Novelis would continue with Aleris’ previously announced expansion plans and did not envision layoffs beyond areas of clear duplication like top management and the corporate back office.
Hindalco also intends to bring some of Aleris’ advanced technology back to India to improve its domestic operations and better serve the local auto and construction markets.
By owning a U.S. aluminum maker like Aleris, Hindalco would benefit from Trump’s 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports, although Aleris also has operations in Europe and China that could suffer if current tensions devolve into a full-scale trade war.
© New York Times 2018