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Louis Dreyfus lifts the lid on its ag operations

Louis Dreyfus lifted the lid on commodities operations such as its 45 orange groves, and unveiled a healthy appetite for investment, as, after 160 years, it unveiled its first public results statement.

The group's commodities arm, Louis Dreyfus Commodities, revealed that it spent $667m in capital investment in the first half of the year, on schemes including port investments at Baton Rouge in the US and Bahia Blanca in Argentina, and on its first feed mill in China.

The sum also included the  bill for the $203m acquisition of US-based Imperial Sugar, and a smaller purchase of an orange processing plant in Parana, Brazil, where the group is also building a coffee warehouse.

The group also bought $6.8m of orange groves, taking its total holding to 45 groves, in Brazil, of which 38 are mature.

It added $2.9m in cane plantations to a portfolio now numbering 13 plantations, also in Brazil.

'Ambitious investment plan'

And the group said it was continue what chief executive Serge Schoen termed an "ambitious investment plan" aimed at boosting its presence in both exporting and importing countries, and in "building a strong presence all along the value chain".

Indeed, the group has since the end of June completed the purchase of Dutch-based dairy trading group Ecoval, while in July entering a joint venture agreement for the development of deep water terminal in Taman, southern Russia.

"Louis Dreyfus Commodities is confident looking forward," Mr Schoen said, adding that even a 20% drop in earnings to $356m in the first half was "solid" against a background of a "a lack of visibility and significant uncertainty" in the global macroeconomic environment.

The result, on net sales down 5.7% at $27.6bn, was "still going on record as one of the best first-half performance in the group's history", the company said.

'Good margins'

The group's proteins division fared best among its major divisions, raising operating profits by 8.8% to $628m, helped by "good" soybean crushing margins in North America and the US, and by business sourcing South American crops "perceived as cheaper alternatives" to rival US supplies.

The tropicals division suffered a drop of one-third to $392m in operating profit, hurt by "a lower-price environment", although the cotton operations "boost very good results" through exploiting rapidly India's temporary ban on exports of the fibre.

The Brazil-based Biosev sugar operations reduced losses by 8% to $84m, a hangover from last year's weak crushing season "compounded by a low-price environment".

Biosev - for which Louis Dreyfus Commodities sought a stockmarket flotation in June, only to pull the IPO in July also played a major role in the decline in group earnings through its debts, which are denominated largely in Brazilian real.

An appreciation in the dollar against the real swelled group financing costs by 84% to $278m during the half year.

Lifting the veil

The results were released as Louis Dreyfus Commodities unveiled its first public results, a move necessitated by its turn to capital markets in September for a fund raising, issuing $350m in bonds, which are listed in Singapore.

The group's overall net debt as of the end of June stood at $10.3bn, up from $9.14bn at the end of December.

Louis Dreyfus Group - which has an 80% stake in Louis Dreyfus Commodities, with the balance owned by employees also owns assets in markets such as coal, plastics and renewable energy.

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