Australia's Elders says in talks with several parties on unit's sale

SYDNEY, March 20 Wed Mar 20, 2013 4:05am EDT

SYDNEY, March 20 (Reuters) - Australian agribusiness company Elders Ltd said on Wednesday it is in talks with a number of parties about the sale of its rural services business.

Elders was responding to an announcement from Australia's competition watchdog on Tuesday that it was reviewing a proposal from larger peer Ruralco Holdings Ltd to buy 100 percent of Elders Rural Services Ltd.

Elders said it had received no formal takeover offer from Ruralco and "no one interested party has been granted preferential status by Elders".

The proposed buyout was revealed as Elders warned a long dry spell had impacted its rural services operations with year-to-date farm sales down 10 percent and livestock commissions down 28 percent, compared to a year ago.

Elders put its rural services division on the market last October.

Ruralco, which operates 97 rural merchandise stores across Australia, is already Elders' largest shareholder, owning 12 percent of the company.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said it will take submissions until April 11 on a plan by Ruralco buy Elders Rural. It expects to announce its findings on May 16.

Elders shares slumped 7.7 percent on Wednesday to close at A$0.12, while Ruralco stock lost 0.6 percent, finishing at A$3.35. (Reporting By Jane Wardell; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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