Occidental Petroleum confirmed industry rumors Thursday that it wanted to buy Stauffer Chemical but said it pulled out of the negotiations this week because other bidders were running up the price.
Company officials commented on the Stauffer talks at the annual meeting in Santa Monica, where shareholders rejected mandatory retirement for the aging board of directors and heard union demonstrators protest the labor policies of a meat-packing subsidiary.
Occidental officials didn't identify other bidders for Stauffer except to describe them as European firms. Spokesmen at Unilever in New York, the parent of Stauffer, declined comment. Unilever has declared its intention to sell the chemical unit but hasn't confirmed any talks.
It would have been the second major chemical acquisition within a year for Los Angeles-based Occidental, which bought Diamond Shamrock Chemical in 1986 for $800 million.
Occidental shareholders, meeting as usual on the birthday of Chairman and Chief Executive Armand Hammer, 89, voted down a stockholder proposal that the board of directors impose a mandatory retirement age for board members.
Nine of the 16 members of Oxy's board are over 70. Management's opposition to the proposal was supported by 61% of outstanding shares, a modest margin of victory in such referendums. Only 6% favored mandatory retirement; the balance of the shares was not voted.
Afterward, one loyal shareholder rose to say that whoever had proposed a mandatory retirement age "must have Alzheimer's disease" and assured the aging Hammer that he firmly supports him, "as long as you don't go senile on us."
Shareholders were given coupons entitling them to $10 rebates on the purchase of "Hammer," the Oxy chairman's new $22.95 autobiography, whose publication this month was partly underwritten by Occidental.
Meanwhile, about three dozen union officials demonstrated quietly outside the meeting to protest the labor policies of Occidental's IBP subsidiary, a beef and pork processing concern whose Dakota City, Neb., plant has had labor strife for years.
"If Hammer himself got involved, we might have a chance to get this resolved," said Bill Schmitz, president of Local 222 of the United Food and Commercial Workers in Dakota City.
In remarks to shareholders, Hammer said he is "personally committed . . . to negotiate in good faith" with workers at the plant, who have no contract and are opposing wage cuts and alleged unsafe working conditions. But the Oxy chief executive repeatedly cut short union officials' efforts to speak to shareholders.
Hammer and other Occidental executives have complained that profit margins of about 1% in the meat business make it essential that its subsidiary, formerly known as Iowa Beef Processors, cut labor and other costs. But he told shareholders that IBP enjoyed record profits last year "and we expect a record performance this year."
Separately on Thursday, Exxon told a shareholders meeting in New Orleans that its board was recommending a 2-for-1 stock split and that it expects strong earnings this quarter.
The world's largest oil and gas concern told shareholders that improving profit margins in its refining operations and firming prices for crude oil have brightened the energy industry outlook.