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World Bank arm flags Ukraine farming's 'tremendous potential'

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The World Bank Group's private-sector lending arm flagged the "tremendous potential" of Ukrainian agriculture as it agreed a $200m loan to MHP, one of the country's top agribusinesses, which unveiled a $110m quarterly loss.

The World Bank's International Financial Corporation (IFC) said that it was, in issuing its syndicated loan facility to MHP, the chicken-to-corn producer, making its "largest deal in Ukraine's agribusiness sector to date".

The cash injection contrasts with the IFC's suspension of lending in Russia over the country's role in stoking Ukraine unrest.

However, the development agency said that boosting Ukraine's agribusiness sector "can help drive Ukraine back to economic growth path and help create jobs.

"The sector has a tremendous potential," said Rufat Alimardanov, regional manager in Belarus and Ukraine for IFC, which agreed its first financing deal with MHP, of $30m, 12 years ago.

Bonds repaid

MHP said that it would use the IFC facility to pay off a 10.25% bond issue which matures on Wednesday.

The group had been able to "prove to our stakeholders that MHP is a long-term reliable partner, who always meets its obligations despite challenging time in Ukraine", said Yuriy Kosyuk, the group's chief executive.

The collapse of hryvnia, which has halved over the past year, has increased the burden to Ukrainian groups of liabilities, such as borrowings, in foreign currencies.

Separately, MHP unveiled a net loss of $110m for the October-to-December quarter, which reflected a $217m non-cash accounting hit from the devaluation of the hryvnia.

The group ended the year with total debt of $1.22bn, "most of which was denominated in dollars".

'Increase export volumes'

MHP's operating profits, however, soared 126% to $79m, on revenues up 17% at $345m, with the weaker hryvnia boosting the competitiveness of its exports, besides lowering the value in dollar terms of group costs.

A strategy of diversifying chicken export beyond Russia has "enabled us… to increase export volumes of chicken meat by 15% year-on-year", Mr Kosyuk said.

Our successful export diversification strategy has enabled us both to minimize the impact of the Customs Union import ban and to increase export volumes of chicken meat by 15% year-on-year

The group said it would "continue to develop its export business, cementing our position in new territories and increasing our coverage of countries and continents" in an effort to exploit further the benefit of the weaker hryvnia.

Rare growth area

In fact, Ukraine's agribusiness sector, with its strong reliance on exports, represented a rare growth area for the country.

"Despite the ongoing political and economic turbulence in Ukraine, the agricultural sector was practically the only of the Ukrainian economy which had a positive development in 2014," Mr Kosyuk said.

MHP said that "after having carefully considered the performance of the company" last year, and in the first two months of 2015, it was approving an interim dividend of US$0.47429 per share.

MHP depositary receipts, a proxy for shares, stood 2.7% higher at $11.50 in morning deals in London, earlier touching a seven-month high of $12.05.

By Agrimoney.com

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