Why going Dutch may pay off for Unilever’s investors

Jason Butler of NW Brown. Picture: NW Brown.

Jason Butler of NW Brown. Picture: NW Brown. - Credit: Archant

Jason Butler of NW Brown explains how Unilever's decision to simplify its Anglo-Dutch structure could deliver a boost to investors.

Consumer goods giant Unilever has taken steps to improve its shareholder offering and fend off potential future bids.

It follows the unsuccessful takeover attempt by Kraft Heinz at the beginning of 2017.

This led to the restructuring of the business and most notably, the decision to move from being two legal entities to one, with a head office in Rotterdam.

The group is currently listed under two legal entities: Unilever PLC (UK) and Unilever NV (Netherlands).

This unusual dual structure was the result of the merger between Naamlooze Vennootschap Margarine Unie of the Netherlands, and Lever Brothers Ltd of the UK in 1930, which in turn became Unilever. The dual structure was chosen to reduce operational disruption and avoid punitive tax bills.

With the UK soon to leave the European Union, there have been questions over the decision.

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However, one of the primary benefits of maintaining legal status in the Netherlands is that Dutch laws are more stringent on takeovers than in the UK, making another hostile takeaway attempt more difficult for overseas companies.

The company will have greater flexibility in portfolio changes, which in turn should help improve long-term performance.

Management want to retain listings in London, Amsterdam and New York, but it's not clear if Unilever will be able to remain within UK indices, most notably the FTSE 100.

Practically, there are unlikely to be any significant changes to the operations of the company and hopefully in time investors will benefit from a more streamlined business.