Viterra focused on integration but eyes buys — Schmidt – for Aug. 30, 2010

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The chief executive of Viterra Inc., a leading grain handler in Canada and South Australia, said the company is well positioned for further acquisitions and continues to seek them, but would not comment in an interview with Reuters on Aug. 23 on the possibility of bidding for AWB Ltd.

Canada’s Agrium Inc. made a A$1.2-billion (C$1.13-billion) all-cash bid this month for top Australian wheat exporter AWB Ltd., trumping an earlier offer by GrainCorp.

Viterra last year acquired ABB Grain, giving it control of South Australia’s main grain storage and handling facilities.

“We certainly wouldn’t and couldn’t comment on our strategic initiatives,” CEO Mayo Schmidt said from Calgary to a question about making an AWB takeover bid. He added that Viterra has a strong balance sheet and is focused on integrating recent acquisitions, although it continues to seek new opportunities.

“Our bold moves some time ago have positioned the company well to take advantage of the opportunities that are now emerging,” he said.

The battle for AWB, Australia’s largest wheat exporter, marks the latest round of consolidation in the country’s grain industry as offshore players scramble for a larger slice of the action in the world’s fourth-largest wheat-exporting nation.

Schmidt also said Australia, which is producing “very good” crops unlike other regions such as the Black Sea, looks to assert itself in global wheat trade this year.

“Australia is going to have an advantage,” he said. “If they produce the crop we think they’re going to produce, I think it puts them in a good position for a good steady export season.”

Severe drought in the Black Sea region has led Russia to halt wheat exports for the rest of 2010 and caused speculation it may need to import large volumes of grain for the first time in 10 years.

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