KKR returns to China's dairy industry with CDH, Modern Dairy venture

HONG KONG, Sept 24 Mon Sep 23, 2013 6:59pm EDT

HONG KONG, Sept 24 (Reuters) - KKR & Co LP is leading a joint venture that plans to invest $140 million in two large dairy farms in China, said a person with direct knowledge of the matter, as the private equity firm returns to the fast-growing sector.

KKR is linking up again with China's Modern Dairy Holdings Ltd and CDH Investments, a Chinese private equity firm, to build two, 10,000-cow farms over a two-year period, the person said.

KKR and CDH previously invested in Modern Dairy, selling out of their stakes in the company earlier this year to lock in a profit after a five-year holding - a fairly standard investment horizon for the private equity industry. The new agreement reflects continued optimism over Chinese demand for high-quality milk products and room in the industry to grow.

China's expanding middle class is driving sales of dairy products, expected to double to $89 billion a year, according to market research firm Frost & Sullivan, with the country's dairy consumption still well below other large countries.

The two farms will be located in Shanghe county in China's Shandong province, the person with knowledge of the matter said. New York-based KKR will hold 61.5 percent of the venture, while CDH will own 20.5 percent and Modern Dairy 18 percent, the person said.

Officials at KKR declined to comment, while CDH and Modern Dairy could not be immediately reached outside normal business hours.

The joint venture comes at a time when China's government, aware of the demand for high-quality milk, is trying to streamline the fragmented industry.

A 2008 tainted milk scandal in China crushed demand for local products and made officials aware that they needed to consolidate the industry and improve safety standards.

China's push to improve the industry has encouraged domestic dairy companies to seek acquisitions and stock offerings to support the fast-growing sector.

KKR and CDH invested in Modern Dairy in 2008, which listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange two years later. China Mengniu Dairy Co Ltd bought the KKR and CDH stakes earlier this year, allowing KKR to triple its original investment, Reuters reported at the time.

With the new dairy farm venture, KKR's exit from the Modern Dairy stake appears more to do with locking in a profit and exiting a deal before a new fund, rather than selling out of an industry it thought would slow. KKR just closed its $6 billion Asia private equity fund, the largest such fund ever raised.

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