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New Britain investors unphased by Felda deal talk

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Shares in New Britain Palm Oil closed barely changed despite Malaysian plantations giant Felda Global Ventures acknowledging interest in buying a stake, amid take of it considering the 49% holding owned by rival Kulim.

FGV, part of the Felda group which is the world's largest crude palm oil producer, confirmed on Monday that was it was evaluating deals involving "several potential brownfield plantations, not limited to New Britain Palm Oil".

The statement followed reports in Malaysian press that FGV was mulling a purchase of the stake owned by Kulim, the plantations-to-shipping conglomerate which failed last year in an attempt to raise its New Britain Palm Oil stake nearly to 70%.

However, FGV - which said that it was "always exploring potential deals that support our growth strategy" to become one of the world's top 10 agricultural commodity players by 2020 - added that "nothing conclusive has been decided at this juncture" over New Britain Palm Oil.

One broker told "It looks like FGV might just be after the Kulim stake for the moment."

'Seems very early stage'

A purchase of the Kulim stake could open speculation of a takeover for the whole of New Britain Palm Oil, which operates in Papua New Guinea but is listed in London, where it has a stockmarket valuation of $1.0bn.

However, the shares closed up a modest 0.6% at 410p, amid doubts over whether FGV would indeed buy a large stake, let alone whether this would lead to a wider offer.

Any deal process "seems very early stage", the broker said, adding that FGV would likely need to pay at least 550p for the shares, given that this was the price at which Kulim pitched its offer to raise its stake last year.

There are also doubts among investors over another bid for New Britain Palm Oil, given the opposition among Papua New Guinea officials to the Kulim bid, spiked after the country's securities authority deemed that a deal was not in the national interest.

New Britain Palm Oil rates as Papua New Guinea's second largest employer, counting in the myriad of smallholders who deliver palm fruit to the group for crushing.

Two deals in the pipeline?

The broker also raised questions of what an FGV bid for New Britain Palm Oil might mean for the Malaysian group's reported interest in Asian Plantations, a smaller operator also listed in London.

"Does this mean FGV have given up on Asian Plantations, given that the talks have been going on, or will they look to progress both deals?"

Asian Plantations in early March confirmed deal talks with "a number of" suitors, and said last month that it "remains in discussions with several parties which might or might not lead to a sale of its entire issued share capital".


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