Record GrainCorp earnings to lift case for higher ADM bid

Wed Nov 14, 2012 10:01am EST

* GrainCorp seen posting 20 pct rise in net profit to record

* Strategic role adds to case for higher bid-analysts

* GrainCorp holding out for 15-20 pct higher bid-sources

By Narayanan Somasundaram and Colin Packham

SYDNEY, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Australian grains handler and takeover target GrainCorp is expected to report a 20 percent rise in annual profit to a record level on Thursday, boosting the case for a higher bid from suitor Archer Daniel Midland Co.

GrainCorp is yet to respond to Archer Daniel's $2.68 billion ($2.80 billion) October bid. Two sources familiar with the process said GrainCorp is holding out for an offer that would be up 15 to 20 percent higher and is assessing interest from rival global food and agriculture companies.

Other sources have said Russian investment and trading group Summa has sought funding for a possible bid. However, among a long list of other potential bidders -- including Cargill , Bunge, Louis Dreyfuss, Singapore's Wilmar International, China's Bright Food Group and COFCO -- there is little sign that any are ready to make a counter-offer.

A spokesman for GrainCorp declined to comment.

Archer Daniel's bid comes at a time of dramatic consolidation in the global grains sector amid intense competition to feed fast-developing countries seeking food security.

Australia is a coveted market with a stable policy regime and good links to Asia. After a string of deals GrainCorp is the last available independent asset of scale.

"ADM's bid is an endorsement of the quality of the business and its strategic positioning," said RBS analyst Belinda Moore, who is recommending clients hold out for a higher offer.

"Australian agriculture has quality, freight and traceability advantages and is also seen as the food bowl or the gateway to Asia," she said.

A 15 to 20 percent sweetened offer would raise the bid closer to A$14 a share and put it right at the top end of past deals that were valued at 9 to 10 times earnings before interest, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA). The current offer values GrainCorp at about 8 times EBITDA.

GrainCorp shares closed at A$12.18 on Wednesday, 3.7 percent above the A$11.75 a share offer price

The grains handler is currently at the peak of its earnings cycle, buoyed by a strong harvest and record carry tonnage. Its earnings are expected to drop off over the next two years as harvest sizes retreat from last season's record.

Adjusted net profit, which excludes one-off items, is expected to jump 20 percent this year to a record A$206 million, but fall to A$177.8 million in 2012/13 and to A$142.7 million the next year, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S data.

"The (deal value) really depends on the 2013 outlook, and it hasn't been the best finish (to the growing season)," Jonathan Snape, analyst at Bell Porter said.

Investors are still hoping for a higher bid given GrainCorp's strategic positioning. It operates seven of the eight bulk grain elevators in eastern Australia, handling as much as 60 percent of the region's wheat, barley, canola, chickpea and sorghum crops. It has about 20 million metric tons of storage at more than 280 inland grain handling sites, according to its website.

"GrainCorp's core infrastructure and ports facilities are scarce assets with meaningful barriers to entry. Unrivalled proximity to fast growing markets deserves a significant premium for control," UBS analyst Lachlan Parker said.

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