China slowdown reaches agriculture groups

The slowdown in Chinese economic growth, which wobbled world markets, has reached the agriculture businesses, with Asian Bamboo revealing a dropping sales hopes and warning of "serious difficulties" among rivals.

The China-based bamboo producer - which in August forecast that consumer demand would "not be significantly impacted by any economic  slowdown", as its consumers were "largely price insensitive" acknowledged that orders had in fact suffered.

"Weakness in export markets and domestic credit tightening is having an impact on demand from small and medium sized companies," the German-listed company said.

The company was set to miss full-year targets for sales of bamboo trees, bought largely by construction, furniture and pulp industries.

Chinese slowdown 

The warning comes the day after China revealed economic growth at an annual rate of 9.1% in the July-to-September, the lowest for two years, and less than the market had anticipated.

The data caused losses on many markets before hopes for a resolution to the eurozone crisis revived sentiment.

And, in further evidence that the Chinese slowdown was reaching agribusiness, weekly inflation data revealed the first food price falls since mid-August.

The data showed that government measures, which have included credit squeeze and price controls, for controlling food inflation had been "effective", Ker Chung Yang, analyst at Singapore-based Phillip Futures analyst, said, adding that this result looked likely to encourage further restrictions.

"We expect Beijing to [retain its] current stance of controlling food prices," Mr Ker said.

Size matters 

Asian Bamboo added that many of its rivals were faring even worse, with "many smaller competitors experiencing serious financial difficulties".

The credit restrictions that China has engineered in an effort to ease inflationary pressures have tended to impact smaller companies most.

"Those that had access to bank credit lose it, and those that never had access find that the cost of informal financing rises," Standard Chartered analyst Wei Li said.

Indeed, Asian Bamboo said that it might, longer term, "benefit from the economic slowdown" if it knocks out competitors denied access to loans.

French loan 

The group revealed that it had itself agreed a E20m loan from French-based Proparco, the emerging market- focused private equity group, whose other investments include a $50m loan to sugar group Tereos Internacional for a cane operation in Brazil.

Asian Bamboo has in turn, besides agreeing to pay interest, handed Proparco options over 143,900 shares, to be exercised between three and seven years' time, and with a strike price of E26.34 a share.

The loan agreement - plus backing from a Western investor at a time when fraud claims have put the accounting of Chinese groups under scrutiny helped Asian Bamboo shares gain 0.4% to E11.50.

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