Markets

Does Shell leave the Netherlands after Unilever?

Vdoes Shell still leave the Netherlands? CEO Ben van Beurden played with the idea earlier this month and spoke in an interview about an “option” to give up the Dutch part of the double seat. There are no concrete plans, but: “Nothing is permanent, and of course we look at the local climate.”

Is the next geopolitical situation threatening? The oil company is the second large Dutch-British company in the country after Unilever. This consumer goods giant with an annual turnover of 52 billion euros wants to drop its seat in Rotterdam and in future only focus on London. A good ninety years ago, the company emerged from the merger of the Dutch Margarine Unie with the British Lever Brothers – and has so far survived as a real binational construct: with two joint stock companies, a Dutch N.V. and a british plc. The market capitalizations on the Amsterdam and London stock exchanges show a slight overweight (55 percent) of the Dutch N.V.

However, a dividend tax is payable on the N.V. shares in the Netherlands, not on plc shares in England – a decisive difference from an investor’s perspective – even if some enjoy exceptional status or the tax can be refunded. Unilever decided to unify its headquarters; the question was where. Following intense lobbying, Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government announced that it would abolish the dividend tax – to keep Unilever in the country. It succeeded at first, but then mutinied British investors. And in the end the company chose London instead of Rotterdam.

Politics makes concessions to corporations

Rutte received some ridicule from those critics who see the economy as too flattering and favored too much in terms of tax policy. On the other hand, Shell is now increasing the pressure. And that could be an interesting debate, especially since the election for the second chamber of parliament is coming up next March. Unilever and Shell are the traditional heavyweights in the 25-member leading index AEX, with around 11.5 percent each last. Only recently has the ASML chip machine manufacturer been in front of them, which has moved to the top due to its unusual price increase. According to the current group plans, Unilever is to remain listed on the Amsterdam stock exchange – which is part of the Euronext network. But of course the following also applies here: Nothing in itself is permanent.

It is also interesting to see what is happening in the retail segment. Here the large group Ahold, which caused a sensation four years ago with the takeover of the Belgian competitor Delhaize, is apparently considering another takeover, this time in its own country. He is said to have kept an eye on the Hema department store chain, which, with its range of products, is something of a more noble Woolworth plus with a limited food department. The company is practically part of the cultural heritage, as the original name behind the acronym suggests: Hollandse Eenheidsprijzen Maatschappij Amsterdam – Dutch Unit Price Company Amsterdam. The first branch opened in 1926, when department stores still served a chic clientele.

Retailers struggle for Hema department store

Hema is also present in Germany, in a few cities and mostly in the West. Lenders recently took control of Hema from the previous private owner and now want to pass the company on. Ahold – owner of Albert Heijn, the omnipresent food chain in the Netherlands – seems to be among those interested. Apparently, one of the main aims is to prevent Hema from falling to its big rival Jumbo. At the beginning of the Corona crisis, Ahold shares fell in price parallel to the overall market, but are now above the level before the crisis. A paper from the small and medium-sized segment AScX has not quite managed it yet, but it nevertheless benefits from a special economic situation: the share of the bicycle provider Accell, which is enjoying extremely high demand for two-wheelers. The share price still has to climb the price peak before the crisis.

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