Viterra Inc. confirmed that it has opened its books to potential buyers.
The grain company issued a brief statement on Thursday confirming, that in response to “expressions of interest from third parties to acquire the company, a process has been established,” by its board of directors to do with a possible takeover.
The company also stated that it has hired financial and legal advisors for the process, which includes entering into confidentiality agreements and the provision of due diligence.
The company made the statement at the request of Market Surveillance on behalf of the Toronto Stock Exchange, which halted the trading of Viterra shares briefly Thursday morning, before the TSX opened, pending the company’s announcement.
Viterra shares have gone up nearly 40 per cent in the past two weeks. On March 9, the company acknowledged it had “received expressions of interest fromthird parties.”
Viterra shares closed Thursday at $16.09, up 9.83 per cent over the previous day’s close.
In its statement, the company cautioned investors.
“Viterra is aware of press reports speculating about, among other things, the process, parties involved and third parties expressions of interest of at least $16 (Cdn) per Viterra common share. Viterra cautions investors not to rely on these press reports as there can be no assurance that a transaction will occur and that if one does occur, there can be no assurance at what price it will be completed.”
Viterra is Canada’s largest grain company. It was created in 2007 when the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool merged with Agricore United.
It is a major player in Davidson’s grain industry, operating a large terminal on the southern edge of town. Cargill owns the grain terminal at the north end of town, a facility that was once an Agricore United terminal. In the centre of Davidson, Richardson Pioneer handles grain out of the bright orange, wooden elevator.
One company rumoured to be interested in buying Viterra is Glencore, a Swiss company that is the world’s largest commodities trader. Reuters Canada reported Friday that the company was planning to buy Viterra and then split the company up three ways, selling the fertilizer business to Agrium, and the food processing to Winnipeg-based Richardson International.
The news that Viterra is a takeover target of much larger grain and food companies, held little surprise for Bladworth farmer Ian McCreary, a former director of the Canadian Wheat Board.
He predicted this would happen once the Wheat Board lost its monopoly over the sale of Western Canadian wheat and barley.
Although there are court cases against the federal government’s legislation to do away with the Wheat Board’s monopoly, unless one of these challenges is successful, the monopoly is set to end Aug. 1, 2012.
“I said last summer that this would be one of the implications,” McCreary said Wednesday. “Relatively small international companies (like Viterra) don’t get as big of returns.”
He said as soon as the market has no buffer like the Wheat Board, it creates a new business environment, one in which the core business becomes grain trading.
“Viterra may be the largest grain company in Canada, but compared to the world, it is very small,” McCreary said.
Even if this current Viterra takeover fails to pan out, McCreary said if the Wheat Board loses the single desk, it will be very difficult for Canadian grain companies to withstand foreign takeover attempts.
He added, the impact of further consolidation of Canada’s grain handling and the possibility of it being in the hands of a few major companies is a “discussion that should have taken place last fall” before the government passed Bill C-18.
The talk of takeovers has some speculating whether the provincial and federal governments will get involved such as when Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall spoke out against Australian miner BHP Billiton’s $40-billion hostile takeover attempt of Potash Corp.
Ottawa rejected that attempt.
“We are monitoring the situation. When an actual bid comes in, we’ll have a team look at it,” Greg Brkich, the MLA for Arm River-Watrous said. “There would have to be a net benefit to the people of Saskatchewan and to farmers.”
He added, “It’s hard to make comments without knowing the bid and how much.”
Headquartered in Regina, Viterra has operations across Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and China.