Ecolab's next big purchase drills into energy services

  • Article by: DEE DEPASS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 12, 2012 - 9:05 PM

The $2.2 billion acquisition of Champion Technologies would add oil-and-gas customers.

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Champion’s Global Technology Manufacturing Center, above, is in Fresno, Texas, while its headquarters are in Houston. The Ecolab deal surprised Wall Street.

Photo: , Champion Technologies

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Ecolab is at it again.

Less than a year after its $8 billion deal to buy Nalco, Ecolab Inc. announced Friday that it wants to become a more potent force in the oil-and-gas market with a planned $2.2 billion purchase of Champion Technologies.

The cash-and-stock deal would give St. Paul-based Ecolab an additional 3,300 employees, $1.4 billion in annual sales and access to Champion's vast line of chemicals aimed at the oil, drilling, hauling and refining sector. Ecolab already boosted its presence in the energy market with its acquisition of Nalco, but with Champion, the sector will become a quarter of Ecolab's total business.

"Champion's technology and product strengths in the U.S. and Canada are very complementary to our innovative technology and services in the offshore and international energy markets. We are excited," said Ecolab CEO Doug Baker.

Ecolab will pay for Champion with about $1.7 billion in cash, 8 million shares of Ecolab stock and the assumption of $37 million in debt. The deal, which surprised Wall Street, lands just 11 months after Ecolab bought Naperville, Ill.-based Nalco Co. for $8.3 billion. Nalco gave Ecolab its first presence in paper making and oil exploration and refining.

Champion, based in Houston, will further boost Ecolab's energy footprint with its declogging and anticorrosion chemicals for refineries, oil and drilling companies, trucks and mining firms. During a conference call with analysts, Baker said he's been interested in Champion for some time and it was a rare opportunity that was too compelling to pass up.

"The deal is terrific financially. ... Like our current Nalco Global Energy Services business, Champion offers very attractive growth."

Investors welcomed the news. Ecolab's stock shot up $2.57 to close at $66.24 a share Friday.

But some analysts were surprised that the deal came before Ecolab completed its integration of Nalco. Others wondered whether Ecolab's foray into energy is the right move.

"It does add to that cyclicality and potential volatility," said Jeff Windau, an equity research analyst for Edward Jones. "But I also think there is some faster growth potential in that energy space than maybe where they were with just cleaning and sanitation [products]. ... Overall it is a nice acquisition and does complement the Nalco business."

Champion has operations in 30 markets around the globe, mostly in North and South America. Officials noted that the addition of Champion reduces Ecolab's overall exposure in Europe, which is ailing economically.

Until a year ago, Ecolab was best known for making cleaning and sanitizing chemicals for restaurants, hotels and hospitals across the planet. But over the years, Ecolab has increasingly waded into water filtration products.

By 2005, Ecolab was generating $125 million a year from water-related services such as industrial water treatment for meat-packing plants, sugar and dairy processors, breweries and cheese makers. It also provided water filtration, softening and mineral reduction processes for boilers, restaurants, hotels, cruise ships, nursing homes, government and educational facilities.

In 2008, it paid $210 million for New York-based Ecovation Inc., a wastewater management firm that catered to food and beverage manufacturers.

Still, the missing piece was energy.

But Ecolab grabbed that golden ring last year through Nalco's energy holdings.

Baker told analysts Friday that with Nalco, Ecolab is on track to save $75 million in costs this year and is ahead of the plan to create $500 million in sales growth synergies by 2016.

Baker upgraded third-quarter earnings guidance to 87 cents a share, an increase of 16 percent over the same quarter last year. Ecolab will announce third-quarter results on Oct. 30.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

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