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Syngenta shares bounce, a bit, on reassurance over $43bn takeover

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Syngenta shares, which plunged in the last session for fears of regulators stymying its $43bn takeover by ChemChina, recovered a little lost ground after the agrichemicals giant reassured on the deal.

Erik Fyrwald, the Syngenta chief executive, acknowledged the enhanced scrutiny that the deal was receiving from European Union antitrust officials, saying that "regulators in the EU and elsewhere have recently requested a large amount of additional information".

Officials' demands came "in a context of industry consolidation", with other agrichemicals and seeds giants involved in mergers – namely the Dow Chemical and DuPont ag divisions, and Bayer's $66bn purchase of Monsanto.

However, Mr Fyrwald said that "the process of obtaining regulatory approvals is well underway", with approval already received by 11 antitrust offices, besides the US Committee on Foreign Investment, which had been seen as a key hurdle.

"ChemChina and Syngenta remain fully committed to the transaction and are confident of its closure," he added.

'Political poker'

Shares in Swiss-based Syngenta rebounded by 1.8% to SFr404.50 in morning deals, recovering a little of the 5.9% lost in the last session, on news of European Commission doubts about the deal.

A European Commission spokesman said on Monday that, at a meeting with antitrust officials last week, neither ChemChina nor Syngenta had offered concessions over the tie-up, a factor deemed by investors as raising the potential of the deal being subject to a full investigation, that could last five months.

Mr Fyrwald said on Tuesday that the groups "now expect the regulatory process to extend into the first quarter of 2017", rather than meeting the end-2016 deadline previously proposed.

Analysts at Baader Helvea said that the commission was "playing political poker" in an effort to win ground on factors including genetically modified seeds, a particularly controversial topic in Europe, but added that they expected the deal ultimately to be approved.

Nonetheless, the Syngenta share price remains well below ChemChina's offer of $465, equivalent to SFr462, with a special dividend of SFr5 on top.

Rising corn seed sales

Syngenta's comments came as the group unveiled a drop of 3.5% to $2.52bn in sales for the July-to-September quarter.

The decline reflected largely a shake-up of sales terms in Brazil, without which, and at constant exchange rates, takings would have seen a 2% rise, the group said, flagging 12% growth in global sales of selective herbicides.

Corn and soybean seed sales also rose by 12%, "led by corn in Latin America and Asia", Syngenta said, and in a period which is key for the Latin America region, coming ahead of the forthcoming seedings period.

The strength in corn seed sales in particular tallies with expectations of higher sowings of the grain in Brazil, thanks to elevated prices after a poor safrinha harvest, and Argentina, where a decision to delay a further cut in soybean export sales is viewed as encouraging many farmers to switch area to corn instead.

By Mike Verdin

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