Glaxo courts Qatar and Singapore to head off £50bn Unilever swoop

GlaxoSmithKline is courting the sovereign wealth funds of Qatar and Singapore as cornerstone investors in a listing of its £50bn consumer business as it seeks to head off a risky takeover by Unilever.

The FTSE 100 pharmaceuticals titan will formally open discussions with state-owned funds after GSK’s capital markets day next month in a bid to shore up support ahead of a float slated for mid-2022.

Securing the backing of a sovereign wealth fund will allow GSK to offer an exit to investors who do not wish to hold stock in the new company. The Qatar Investment Authority and Singapore’s GIC are among those that will be targeted, it is understood.

It comes as GSK, whose chief executive is Dame Emma Walmsley, seeks to head off a potential takeover bid by Unilever. It was forced to defend offering £50bn to buy Glaxo’s healthcare division late last year in a proposal that was rebuffed.

Alan Jope, chief executive of Unilever, said he was prepared to sell food brands to fund the acquisition, with sources at the company saying the likes of Marmite, Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Ben & Jerry’s were all on the block.

GSK’s plan to secure cornerstone investment marks a fresh twist in the battle for some of its best-known brands and could break a stand-off between the company’s board, led by chairman Sir Jonathan Symonds, and the Wall Street activist Elliott Investment Management.

It is understood that many GSK shareholders are supportive of the plan to float the consumer arm but do not want to hold stock in the new company because they are focused on its pharmaceutical prowess. A sovereign wealth fund would be able to act as a buyer for these investors’ shares.

A takeover by Unilever is less appealing for the GSK board as the company would likely face significant competition hurdles and drag out the timetable for investors to cash out. 

Bloomberg reported that investment bankers are preparing a debt package of up to £25bn in case private equity companies decide to make their own offer.

More than £7bn was wiped off the value of Unilever, with shares falling 4pc after the weekend’s revelations spooked the market. Glaxo shares ended 4.1pc higher.

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