Continental increases stake in Bunge

by Arvin Donley
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NEW YORK, NEW YORK, U.S. — It appears Continental Grain Co., a powerful force in the global grain industry for many years, could play a key role in the potential sale of U.S.-based agribusiness giant Bunge.

Multiple media outlets on March 5 reported that Continental Grain, an investor in agricultural and food businesses, has filed with regulators about a previously undisclosed position in potential takeover target Bunge and plans to hold discussions with the U.S. agricultural commodity trader about a potential sale.

Continental, which owns 1% of Bunge, has secured approval from U.S. regulators to buy more shares, according to reports.

Under the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s Hart-Scott-Rodino Act, if a group or individual purchases more than $84 million of stock in a company its investment is considered “non-passive,” it needs clearance to increase its position, which would allow it to hold talks with that company about things such as strategy.

Bunge, which has a market valuation of about $11 billion, has been a takeover target during the past year. In early 2017, Glencore, a swiss miner and commodity trader, approached Bunge with an offer but was rebuffed. More recently, Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM) reportedly held discussions with Bunge about a possible deal that would combine two of the world’s largest grain traders.

With the global grain industry stagnating with large grain inventories and slumping prices, Bunge has had a string of poor quarterly earnings reports, the latest coming on Feb. 14 when it announced a $69 million loss in the fourth quarter, compared with a $262 million profit a year earlier.

Investors, including Continental, are reportedly losing patience with Bunge management following this string of sub-par earnings reports.

Shares of Bunge rose as much as 5% on March 5 after it was reported that Continental Grain had increased its investment in the company. It closed up 3.8% at $77.99 per share.

Continental Grain, founded in Belgium in 1813, was a major player in physical commodities until 1999 when it sold its grain trading unit to Cargill for $1 billion.

It has a history of pushing for strategic change in companies in which it holds shares. In 2013, for example, it called for the breakup of Smithfield Foods, a large pig producer. Eventually, the company was sold to the Chinese company, Shuanghui International Holdings, Inc., which is now WH Group Ltd.