Sweetened $3b offer wins GrainCorp

Shareholders, not grain growers, were the reason GrainCorp accepted a $3 billion takeover offer by the US commodity giant Archer Daniels Midland, said Alison Watkins, chief executive of the big Australian agribusiness group.

Shareholders, not grain growers, were the reason GrainCorp accepted a $3 billion takeover offer by the US commodity giant Archer Daniels Midland, said Alison Watkins, chief executive of the big Australian agribusiness group.

The offer, in which shareholders would receive $12.20 a share, plus a $1 dividend, is the latest in a series of sweetened bids by ADM since it first approached the company in October last year.

The move, if successful, would give ADM control over GrainCorp's valuable grain exporting assets, in particular, seven of the eight ports that ship grain in bulk from Australia's east coast. The company, which started life as the New South Wales government's Grain Elevators Board in 1916, would turn into a branch of a multibillion-dollar global commodity house, with its headquarters in Illinois.

Ms Watkins said the company's focus had "very much been on shareholders", and getting a good outcome for them.

"I'm sure there will be a number of different stakeholder groups out there who will have a range of reactions," she said on the value to grain growers.

She said it was likely to be "business as usual" for the company if the takeover went ahead, but admitted she had had little direct contact with ADM.

"We certainly haven't discussed their intentions," she added. But Jon Slee, chairman of the Grain Industry Association of Western Australia, said local growers would be concerned about the future of GrainCorp's smaller divisions.

"There's a risk that they shut down smaller local processing arms as they shift away from Australian processing and become more focused on large-volume commodity trading," he said.

He said growers would like to see ADM invest in storage and handling infrastructure, as well as processing plants, in Australia.

"That's where ADM have got expertise," he said. "We'd like to see them bring that to the table."

About half Australia's wheat production comes from the west.

The announcement of the takeover offer resulted in GrainCorp's share price jumping 7.9 per cent to $12.81, the highest since the company listed on the stock exchange in 1998. ADM chief executive Patricia Woertz said in a statement that the group, which converts corn, wheat and other crops into food, feed, fuel and industrial products, was pleased to have reached agreement with GrainCorp "to conduct due diligence" and, subject to that due diligence, put a recommended offer in front of the GrainCorp shareholders.

Analysts said the most valuable asset to ADM was control of Australia's main grain-handling ports, which would allow the company to export to Asia, and particularly the Middle East.

"They've got 15 per cent shareholding in Wilmar, a commodities group, and some heavy assets in Asia," PhillipCapital analyst Paul Jensz said.

"So what Australia does is add some premium grain and barley and canola abilities."

GrainCorp's chairman, Don Taylor, said moving that towards a global, price-driven market could be a boon for growers.

"ADM is a big company and offers potential access to the global networks that complement our own," he said.

"Their $3 billion-plus investment will be a real vote of confidence for Australian growers and Australian agriculture."

He said the conditions of the takeover were favourable for the business to run as usual.

"I have absolute confidence that growers will see enhanced service in the immediate future," he said.

ADM bought a 19.85 per cent stake in GrainCorp last year.

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