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A slimmer Huntsman Corp. may go on sale

SHARE A slimmer Huntsman Corp. may go on sale

Salt Lake-based Huntsman Corp., the fifth-biggest U.S. chemical company, may put itself up for sale after shedding $1.72 billion in assets to become a maker of specialty products, Chairman Jon Huntsman said Wednesday.

The stock rose the most in six months.

Other chemical producers already have expressed an interest in acquiring Huntsman, though the offers were too low, the chairman said in a presentation on the Internet. Jon Huntsman, 69, said he is the largest personal shareholder of the company he founded 37 years ago and took public two years ago.

The chairman said he has financed nine U.S. cancer hospitals and clinics, and he wants to create a charitable foundation to expand that work. He said he hasn't sold any company stock since the public offering in February 2005.

Huntsman is selling commodity chemical assets for cash to repay debt and focus on products less exposed to wide swings in raw-material costs.

"After we clean this up and make this transition, I think the time may be right" to sell the company, Jon Huntsman said. "I'm not going to give my approval unless we are going to get a terrific value for the stock."

Huntsman shares rose 93 cents, or 4.5 percent, to close at $21.59 on the New York Stock Exchange, valuing the company at $4.78 billion. The percentage gain was the biggest since Aug. 2. The stock has climbed 14 percent this year.

HMP Equity Trust, which includes Jon Huntsman and investors led by David Matlin, owns 59 percent of the company's stock.

"The problem David has is I have to concur before he can do anything," Jon Huntsman said. "I don't intend to sign off until I think this is the highest possible price. It's part of my job to make sure he makes maximum dollar."

Huntsman last week agreed to sell U.S.-based commodity assets to Koch Industries Inc. for $761 million, including the value of working capital and inventory. The sale probably will close in the third quarter, pending the repair of a factory damaged by fire, the company said last week.

The company on Dec. 29 sold U.K.-based commodity-chemical assets to Saudi Basic Industries Corp. for $685 million, and it sold some Port Neches, Texas, plants to Texas Petrochemicals LP in June for $262 million.

After the sales are completed, Huntsman will reduce purchases of petroleum-based materials such as benzene and naphtha to $1.6 billion a year from $4.7 billion.

The asset sales, restructuring and new factories will widen profit margins to 15 percent of sales by the start of 2009 from about 9 percent last year, Chief Executive Officer Peter Huntsman said last week.

"We are trying to position our company so that we can control our destiny," chairman Huntsman said. "I really believe that if we handle this right that we have one of the greatest companies in the world," and the stock price will reflect that, he said.

Huntsman said a year ago that it held talks on the prospect of selling the entire company because the share price didn't accurately reflect its value. Huntsman broke off talks days later, saying the bids were too low. It then announced plans to spin off or shed commodity businesses.

The asset sales will reduce Huntsman's annual sales to about $9 billion from $13 billion, CEO Huntsman said.

Huntsman's remaining units include titanium dioxide, a white pigment; polyurethanes, used in building insulation and sealants; performance products; and materials and effects, which includes textile dyes.