Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) has agreed to acquire a 24.99% stake in Swiss specialty chemicals maker Clariant AG, becoming the company's largest shareholder, SABIC announced on 25 January.

SABIC did not say how much it paid for the deal, but Clariant's 24.99% stake was worth US$2.4bn based on its market capitalisation, according to Reuters.

Clariant supplies the oils and fats industry with bleaching earths and had agreed a US$20bn merger with Huntsman Corporation, USA, last May, only to call it off in October after activist investors and shareholders blocked the deal.

"Clariant AG is complementary to SABIC's existing specialties business and is well in line with SABIC's strategy of opening up new growth opportunities in speciality chemicals," said SABIC CEO Yousef al-Benyan.

SABIC, currently the world's number 4 chemical firm, said it currently had no plans to launch a full takeover of Clariant.

However, some analysts said in the Reuters report that they did not expect SABIC to stop now.

“SABIC is not known to be satisfied with minority stakes,” said Baader Helvea analyst Markus Mayer. “As a consequence, I think they’ll try to get the Süd-Chemie families’ 14% holding and then make an offer for the rest.”

Clariant’s second biggest shareholder group is a family linked to Germany’s Süd-Chemie.

Swiss stock exchange rules required those holding more than a third of a company to make an offer for the remainder, Reuters said.

SABIC is 70% owned by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, Public Investment Fund.

Reuters said Middle Eastern energy players were eager to expand into more advanced downstream chemicals operations like the catalysts that Clariant produces.

The closing of the transaction is subject to regulatory approvals.