Seven looks to diversify as Westrac takes a hit

Seven Group is looking at new sectors such as agribusiness and water for growth as the group weathers a downturn in mining services which will see it cut 1000 staff from its Westrac business this year.

Seven Group is looking at new sectors such as agribusiness and water for growth as the group weathers a downturn in mining services which will see it cut 1000 staff from its Westrac business this year.

The move came as Seven late Tuesday sold down part of its stake in Agricultural Bank of China as Kerry Stokes' mining services and investment company cashes up for further acquisitions.

It is understood Macquarie Group were in the market selling a quarter of the Perth company's holding in the Hong Kong listed bank.

Seven Group last valued the stake at $229.7 million in its results presentation last year. The holding was not broken out in 2013.

Seven Group, which owns the Westrac earthmoving business and a stake in Seven West Media, was one of the 11 cornerstone investors in July 2010 float of AgBank.

Meanwhile Seven Group on Tuesday flagged further diversification from its current investment portfolio.

"We've been given the remit from the chairman to take a look at growing [Seven Group]", chief executive Don Voelte told reporters after its shareholder meeting in Sydney on Tuesday. "Our executive team is actively looking at, analysing and negotiating new organic or acquisition targets associated with industrial services, energy, food and water."

Seven Group has a wide range of business interests, including a 35 per cent stake in media group Seven West Media, and an extensive share portfolio.

Mr Voelte said the company's plan is to use the present downturn to make its existing businesses better and use its strong cash flow to "add to that portfolio with profitable and growth businesses of the future" which fit with its core competencies. It does not mean the group will be decreasing its bet on the mining boom, with Mr Voelte describing the downturn, which will see Seven Group earnings decline up to 40 per cent this year, as a "China anomaly" in a decade-long growth curve.

Seven executive chairman Kerry Stokes strongly endorsed the view that the benefits of the mining boom are not at an end.

"I'm very optimistic that, as a country, the mining industry is still going to hold this country together for the next decade at least, and as a supplier to that industry we expect that we will carve our place and do a lot better," Mr Stokes said.

According to Mr Stokes, the Westrac business was suffering due to the effects of declining gold, nickel and aluminium prices on its customers as well as the coal sector which is also suffering from a high Aussie dollar and lower pricing which means "our customers are hurting and looking for more efficiencies and lower costs".

Seven Group shares closed 8ยข higher at $7.55 on Tuesday.

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