Bettencourt’s death sparks speculation about L’Oréal’s future

Shares in cosmetics group L’Oréal rose on Friday after the death of 94-year-old billionaire Liliane Bettencourt, who had the largest stake in the company and whose passing may alter the ties between L’Oréal and Nestlé.

L’Oréal shares were up around 4 percent in early trading, the best performer on France’s benchmark CAC-40 index and among the top stocks on the pan-European STOXX 600 index.

Bettencourt’s family owns 33 percent of L’Oréal. Her daughter Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers, who sits on L’Oréal’s board along with her own son, said in a statement that the family remained committed to L’Oréal and its management team.

Nestlé, which owns just over 23 percent of L’Oréal, had agreed with the founding family that the two parties could not increase their stakes during Liliane Bettencourt’s lifetime and for at least six months after her death.

“Speculation will now inevitably be re-ignited around Nestlé’s intentions towards its L’Oréal stake,” analysts at Jefferies wrote in a research note.

“This holds out the prospect of L’Oréal either buying in the stake, or perhaps even Nestlé buying L’Oréal outright.”

Nestlé shares were up 1.1 percent while shares in healthcare company Sanofi, in which L’Oréal also has a 9 percent stake, also advanced by around 1 percent.

Analysts said that while they did not expect any immediate changes to the relationships between Nestlé and L’Oréal, a deal in the longer run could not be ruled out.

L’Oréal could also carry out share buybacks after Bettencourt’s death, as Bettencourt had been unwilling to sell L’Oréal shares during her lifetime, which could also boost the L’Oréal stock price, added the analysts.

“We have recently argued that a major deal at Nestlé is not on the cards for now, and the market is currently seeing Nestlé as a seller of L’Oréal (after it sold an 8 percent stake in 2014),” JP Morgan analysts wrote in a note.

“Yet at a time of intense changes and portfolio reshuffling in the industry, a potential take-over of L’Oréal by Nestlé cannot be discarded completely, and we believe the market debate around L’Oréal’s future with or without Nestlé is likely to intensify,” added JP Morgan.