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China's Shuanghui to buy US pork icon Smithfield
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) May 29, 2013

China's Shuanghui International moved to lock in a strong supply of US pork for the Chinese market Wednesday with a deal to buy US meats icon Smithfield Foods for $4.7 billion.

In one of the largest-ever Chinese purchases of a US firm, Shuanghui, which controls China's largest meat-processing company, will pay cash and assume debt in a deal that values Smithfield at $7.1 billion.

That represents $34 a share for the outstanding shares of Smithfield, a premium of 31 percent over Tuesday's closing price.

Smithfield shares closed up 28.4 percent at $33.35 in trade Wednesday.

Both companies said that Shuanghui's goal was to access US pork supplies for the giant Chinese market and that Smithfield's management would stay in place.

"Chinese consumers like American pork. US farmers want to export their pork," said Shuanghui managing director Yang Zhijun in a call with investors and journalists.

"Together we can be a global leader in animal protein... No other combination has such a great opportunity," he said.

Smithfield chief executive Larry Pope said the deal opens up new markets for the company, headquartered in the US ham capital Smithfield, Virginia.

Shuanghui, also known as Shineway, provides a strong distribution network for the company in China and the region, he said.

Asia "is a tremendous and growing export opportunity for Smithfield," he said.

Hong Kong-based Shuanghui International has a controlling interest in Henan Shuanghui Investment & Development, China's largest meat processor.

Smithfield, which earned $361 million in fiscal 2012 on sales of $13.1 billion, is a powerhouse in US processed meat, with popular brands including Smithfield, Armour, Gwaltney and Healthy Ones.

In Europe it is known for Aoste, Campofrio and Justin Bridou brands.

The deal could help satisfy growing Chinese demand for pork and boost US exports.

Tom Graves, an analyst at S&P Capital IQ, said in recent years China's pork imports have run "a little ahead" of domestic production.

But he said the deal could lead to upward pressure on US pork prices because of the increase in exports.

In 2012 China was the fourth biggest market for US pork after Japan, Mexico and Canada, according to US Department of Agriculture data.

Shuanghui said in the announcement that it would not change the management of Smithfield after the acquisition is completed and Smithfield delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.

It said it will keep the company's headquarters in Virginia and honor existing union agreements.

"It will be business as usual -- only better -- at Smithfield. We do not anticipate any changes in how we do business operationally in the United States and throughout the world," Pope said.

The deal still needs the approval of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which monitors especially security-sensitive investments from China.

It was the second largest announced Chinese acquisition of a US company, after the giant $28 billion sale of aircraft leasing firm ILFC to a Chinese consortium announced in December 2012.

Chinese acquisitions of US companies have been rising.

In 2009, Chinese firms bought 27 US companies for $3.3 billion, whereas in 2012 Chinese firms acquired 49 US firms for $11.6 billion, according to Dealogic.

The largest Chinese acquisition of a non-Chinese company was oil company CNOOC's $18.2 billion of Canada's Nexen.

The Smithfield deal was announced a month after a key Smithfield shareholder, Continental Grain, made a public call for the company to be broken up to better maximize shareholder value.

Continental argued that breaking up Smithfield would boost its stock price to $40 a share within three years.


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