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Glencore mulling ag business IPO, amid debt-cutting drive

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Glencore revealed it is considering an IPO of its agriculture business, besides the search for a trade investor it has previously announced, as the commodities giant unveiled a debt-cut plans which sent its shares soaring.

The copper-to-corn trader, which two months revealed that it was seeking a minority investor for its ag division, said that this remained the preferred option.

"Looking to bring in a minority partner remains the area that we are focusing on," said Steven Kalmin, the group's chief financial officer.

However, "by the way of colour" he told investors that Glencore's restructuring of its agriculture division, to be headquartered separately in Rotterdam, was being undertaken with the aim of "having that vehicle capable of being IPOed as well".

"It is being prepared for that."

'Dual track - almost'

He added that "I would not call it quite the normal dual track" process, which typically means that both trade sale and stockmarket flotation options are pursued with equal alacrity.

"But certainly the optionality is being created to do either minorities or a potential IPO" of the business, whose interests range from the Canada-based Viterra grain handling business bought three years ago to oilseed crushing operations in South America to farms in the former Soviet Union.

As for the stake being sold off, he said that Glencore, "would sell whatever percentage made sense in either public or private structure".

Companies including GIC, the Singapore wealth fund, Japanese trading house Mitsui & Co and US-based agriculture and energy co-operative CHS Inc have been among companies reported as having expressed an interest in the Glencore agriculture stake.

'We are traders'

In fact, Ivan Glasenberg, the Glencore chief executive, said that a sale of control of the business was not out of the question.

"If someone throws a massive number at us... that creates more value than we believe it is worth to us - of course, we are traders, we will take the best price available," Mr Glasenberg said.

However, he confirmed that Glencore had, in seeking investors, "only asked for indicative bids for minority stakes".

He underlined what he saw as synergies between the agriculture business and Glencore's larger operations in mining, saying that transporting crops was akin to shipping metals to port and smelter.

"Whether you moving wheat, barley, corn etcetera, you are buying it from the farmer, putting it into your facilities, putting it on a boat, delivering it to the end customer.

Ag trading, like moving metals, "delivers on the logistics business", with "arbitrage opportunities" existing too in both operations.

Deadline looms

The comments came as a mid-December deadline drew near for Glencore to receive indicative bids for investors in its agriculture division.

It expects to sign off in the first half of the year.

And they emerged as Glencore revealed an increase in its net debt reduction plan to $13bn as of the end of next year, up from a target of $10.2bn outlined in September.

The move should see the company's debt fall to $18bn-19bn by the end of next year, and potentially fall even further, with Mr Kalmin saying Glencore had "scope and commitment to do more if required".

Market reaction

The announcement was well received by investors, whose concerns over Glencore's debt sent the group's shares below 70p in September.

Credit Suisse said that "overall, the company is ahead of schedule on the debt reduction plan.

"The company will need to show continual delivery against this plan.

"But this update is better than expected, sufficiently detailed and provides a clear debt reduction pathway and timeline."

Glencore shares stood 6.4% higher at 88.39p in afternoon deals in London.


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