Glencore looking to expand agriculture business, CEO says

(Dave Bedard photo)

Cham, Switzerland | Reuters –– Miner and trader Glencore is looking to expand its agriculture business via its partnership with two Canadian funds, the company’s CEO said on Wednesday, but has no plans to move into any commodities it does not already trade.

CEO Ivan Glasenberg was speaking a day after U.S. grains trader Bunge said it was not in talks with Glencore, while Glencore said it had made an informal approach to discuss “a possible consensual business combination.”

“Agriculture has always been our strategy,” Glasenberg told shareholders at the annual general meeting in Cham, near Zug in Switzerland where Glencore has its headquarters.

Glencore, which became a major international grain trader through its takeover of Canadian-based Viterra in 2012, sold 50 per cent of its agriculture business in 2016 to two Canadian investment funds, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) and British Columbia Investment Management Corp (bcIMC).

The disposal took place when Glencore was rebuilding its balance sheet following the commodity price crash of 2015. Ratings agencies have since upgraded Glencore and analysts say its balance sheet is now strong.

Glasenberg said he hoped to grow the agriculture business through its vehicle Glencore Agriculture, set up with the two Canadian funds.

“That structure will be used to continue growing our agriculture business,” he said. “Hopefully it will get bigger in the future.”

In general, Glasenberg said he preferred to increase the business through acquisitions rather than greenfield investment, which in the mining sector can be very costly.

He also said the company had no interest in getting into commodities that it does not already trade.

Glencore has said the talks with Bunge may not lead to any deal, but has not said what it might acquire should it not buy Bunge.

Speculation has mounted that, after a string of poor results, the world’s big grain trading houses are poised for a wave of consolidation similar to the mergers and acquisitions seen in the farm chemicals and seed industries.

Apart from Bunge, the big four trading houses include rivals Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus.

They have struggled against global oversupply and thin trading margins, but Glencore sees agriculture as part of the late-cycle commodities, for which it predicts demand will strengthen as economies such as China mature.

— Barbara Lewis is Reuters’ senior energy and environment correspondent for the EU, based in London. Additional reporting by Justin George Varghese in Bangalore.

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