By Saabira Chaudhuri
One of the U.K.'s biggest companies looks set to leave the FTSE 100, the country's blue chip stock index.
Unilever PLC said Thursday it was "extremely unlikely" it would keep a place in the index after it consolidates its British and Dutch legal structure in the Netherlands. It currently operates as two separately listed companies, Unilever PLC in the U.K. and Unilever NV in the Netherlands.
The move could force some investors -- namely funds that track the FTSE 100 -- to ditch the company's shares. It will also rob British and foreign investors invested in the index of some of their exposure to consumer goods. Unilever will still retain a listing in London but not one that allows it to be included in the FTSE, of which it is one of the largest components.
On the flip side, Unilever's weighting in pan-European indexes will increase. It will also be listed in the Netherlands and the U.S.
"It's very clear to us that it's extremely unlikely that the new NV shares will be included in the FTSE UK series," said Unilever Chief Financial Officer Graeme Pitkethly said at a conference in Paris. Despite the disappointment -- Unilever had initially hoped to stay in the index -- he maintained that "simplification is the right thing for the company."
Unilever in March said it would unify its dual structure, picking the Dutch city of Rotterdam as its headquarters over London. The decision came after a monthslong review sparked by an unwelcome $143 billion takeover proposal from Kraft Heinz Co. early last year.
The existing structure has been in place since Lever Bros., an English soap maker, and Margarine Unie, a Dutch margarine producer, agreed to join forces in 1929. The structure has evolved since then, but the company continues to operate like separate legal entities fused under a group-wide set of senior managers and directors.
Critics had complained Unilever's structure is unwieldy and can interfere with deal making -- including by hindering the company's ability to use stock to make big acquisitions. The shares of the two operating companies aren't convertible and the value of a single share in each company must remain equal. That has made it tough to issue new stock to fund a deal.
Apart from making M&A easier, moving to a single share class eliminates certain administrative burdens. Board members must currently attend back-to-back shareholder meetings in London and Rotterdam once a year.
Mr. Pitkethly said he expects documentation about the consolidation to be filed early in the third quarter.
Write to Saabira Chaudhuri at firstname.lastname@example.org