Tasmanian salmon giant Huon Aquaculture is set to sell to a Brazilian meat processing company for almost half a billion dollars.

Key points:

  • Brazilian meat processing company JBS is chasing full control of the Tasmanian salmon farmer
  • Huon’s directors recommend shareholders vote in favour of JBS acquiring 100 per cent of its shares
  • A sale would mean financial reporting for Huon would switch from the ASX to Brazilian authorities, a financial advisor says

Late Friday, the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) revealed the company had entered a deal with JBS, which would see the South American giant acquire 100 per cent of Huon’s shares at $3.85 per share, should shareholders approve.

On Friday, Huon shares closed at $2.79.

The deal has been reported as being worth $425 million — but one financial expert said the deal was likely worth up to $550m.

Huon’s board of directors said the buyout was in shareholders’ best interests, and has recommended they vote in favour of the deal.

Directors, including founders and major shareholders Frances and Peter Bender, said they intend to vote to support the sale.

The Benders have a controlling 53 per cent stake in the company, which is the second largest of the three salmon producers in the state, founded in 1986.

Huon Aquaculture founders Peter and Frances Bender

Huon Aquaculture founders Peter and Frances Bender have recommended the sale go ahead.(

ABC News: Jane Ryan

)

In a release, JBS said the deal has been approved by the controlling shareholders and take over is expected to be concluded by the end of this year, with the approval of the other shareholders and the Australian Foreign Investment Review Board.

Billionaire mining magnate Andrew Twiggy Forrest recently paid $20 million for a 7.5 per cent share in the company, while Australian Super currently owns 12 per cent.

Salmon farm enclosures in Tasmanian waters, owned by Huon Aquaculture.

 Huon Aquaculture’s bottom line has been affected by COVID.(

Supplied: Huon Aquaculture

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Acquiring Huon’s stocks will mark JBS’s move into aquaculture, but it’s the Brazilian multinational’s second operation in Tasmania, with the company owning a beef cattle processing unit at Longford. 

JBS Australia’s president and chief executive officer, Brent Eastwood, said the acquisition of Huon allows the company to further grow its Australian protein business.

On Saturday, Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein said in terms of his dealings with JBS, “they have demonstrated they are a very reasonable corporate citizen in their time in Tasmania and I don’t expect that will change”.

Deal valued at $550 million

Shadforth’s financial advisor Sam Baker said the takeover would see JBS absorb Huon Aquaculture’s debt.

“JBS, which is one of the largest food processing companies in the world, will look to take control of the company and potentially provide additional financial strength.”

He said the deal actually values the company at about $550 million.

“The share offer is $425 million but it would also mean JBS takes on $120 million in company debt and there’s also a dividend in the offer.” 

JBS is valued at about $16 billion dollars. 

The Benders stand to make about $210 million from the deal. 

Shadforth financial adviser Sam Baker said if it goes ahead, Huon would no longer be listed on the Australian stock exchange and its financial reporting obligations would occur in Brazil. 

Mr Baker said Andrew Forrest bought in at $2.48 a share, so if he sells to JBS, he would make about 80 per cent on his investment in six weeks. 

Twiggy to launch rival bid?

Mr Baker said another less likely possibility was that Mr Forrest launches his own, alternative bid.

“The Huon board has recommended the offer but that’s always with the caveat that it’s in the absence of a superior proposal,” he said.

“Twiggy may now well lob a bid in, although it’s not likely. 

Large salmon processing ship next to fish farming pens.

A sale to JBS would mean Huon’s financial reporting obligations would no longer be to the ASX, a market commentator said.(

Supplied: Havyard

)

In a statement ASX revealed Huon Aquaculture Group delivered a loss of just over $95 million in the six months to 31 December last year

It cited COVID-19 impacts on the global market for the loss, with global demand for salmon dropping by nearly 30 per cent compared to the previous six months. 

Sale condemned by anti-fish farming group

Environmental group Tasmanian Alliance for Marine Protection (TAMP), has said it opposes the deal and that Tasmanians should feel “sickened”.

Salmon hatchlings

JBS had “shown utter disregard for Tasmania and Tasmanians”, a group opposing the sale said.(

ABC News: Rhiannon Shine

)

In a statement, TAMP co-chair Peter George claimed the Brazilian multinational would not look out for Tasmanian workers. 

Mr George referenced issues JBS had with King Island beef producers nearly a decade ago, when the company refused to lease the island’s vacant abattoir, forcing farmers to ship their cattle to the JBS abattoir in Longford in the state’s north.

“No good can come of the sell-out and communities around the state will stand together to oppose a giant multinational that has already shown its utter disregard for Tasmania and Tasmanians.”

Posted , updated 

Tasmanian salmon farmer being pursued by Brazilian meat giant
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