What Investors Need to Know About the Univar IPO

By Markets Fool.com

A relatively frothy stock market can churn up all kinds of companies. One of those, we might call the reanimated equity -- a business that was once publicly traded, then taken private, and is now returning to the market.

Continue Reading Below

Univar is a good example. Founded over 90 years ago, the company was a publicly traded entity for decades before going private in 2007. It is among the largest chemical product distributors on the planet, taking the No. 1 position in its native United States and No. 2 in Europe.

Appropriately for such a large enterprise with a long history, Univar's IPO is going to be big. The company hopes to gross as much as $440 million from the issue, which is to be floated on Thursday.20 million shares of the company will be sold at a price of $20 to $22 apiece, and the stock will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol UNVR. The lead underwriters of the issue areBank of AmericaMerrill Lynch,Goldman Sachs, andDeutsche BankSecurities.

Here's what else you need to know about the IPO.

International chemistry
There is a dizzying variety of chemical manufacturers and products on the global market. Univar distributes a great many of these goods; its supplier list includes the top names in the chemicals and materials sectors, including ExxonMobil, LyondellBasell, and BASF. Among Univar's notable customers are Dow Chemical, FMC, and Henkel.

Univar is well established in North America, drawing nearly 74% of its over $10 billion in net sales from the market in 2014. Europe, the Middle East, and Africa together contributed a bit more than $2.2 billion, or almost 22% of the total. The tally for the rest of the world was $550 million.

Continue Reading Below

That $10 billion sales figure was essentially flat from 2013. Both were a bit higher than 2012's sales of $9.7 billion. The bottom line, meanwhile, has been consistently in the red over the past five fiscal years; 2014's shortfall of $20 million was the smallest of the five (the largest being 2012's $197 million).

One major reason for the losses is the company's heavy debt load. At the end of last year, Univar's long-term obligations amounted to $4.3 billion -- over 20 times its cash position at the time. Interest expenses alone drained almost $260 million from the coffers last year.

High indebtedness is not unusual for companies taken off the market by private equity operators, as in Univar's case. Oftentimes, debt is incurred to fund the dividends that help such entities recoup their investments.

Through subsidiaries, two private equity firms -- CVC Capital Partners (the firm that took Univar off the market last decade) and Clayton, Dubilier & Rice -- will hold over 62% of Univar's shares after the IPO. Another enterprise, a subsidiary of Singapore's state-owned investment company Temasek Holdings, is to hold slightly more than 18%.

Fracking for growth
This IPO has been quite some time in coming. Last April, it was first reported that Univar was exploring a return to the stock market; a planned issue was apparently delayed earlier this year following the sharp decline of crude oil prices.

The price slide mattered, because one of Univar's great hopes for future growth is the fracking segment. Although oil and gas drilling materials only comprise 10% to 13% of the company's revenue, fracking was considered to be a high-growth activity full of potential.

It still is; despite the slowdown in fracking investments due to the price declines, CEO Erik Fyrwald has said he's "extremely optimistic" about drilling's future in North America.

But will this be enough to lift Univar's revenue significantly? That's an important question, as the company's debt load will almost certainly continue to weigh heavily on results. And even though Univar has a commanding position on the market, its relatively stagnant top line over the past few years indicates its other businesses are mature.

Its concentrated shareholdings are also cause for concern. The two private equity players might be inclined tomanage Univar more in line with their own interests -- i.e., with an eye to the most profitable exit they can engineer. This might not necessarily be good for the company's long-term viability.

As such, it might be best for investors to adopt a wait-and-see attitude to the new stock, and hold off on grabbing shares for now.

The article What Investors Need to Know About the Univar IPO originally appeared on Fool.com.

Eric Volkman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Bank of America, and owns shares of ExxonMobil. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.