Malaysia's Sugar King Kuok has gone global

A sugar cane train in North Queensland. Wilmar struck a surprise deal to buy CSR’s sugar business, trumping China’s Bright Food. — Reuters

The Star | Tuesday July 6, 2010


Wilmar buys Aussie sugar maker

PETALING JAYA: The Sugar King has gone global.

Months after Tan Sri Robert Kuok-controlled PPB Group Bhd sold its entire local sugar operations to Felda, the billionaire once dubbed the Sugar King of Malaysia acquired Sydney-based CSR Ltd’s sugar business for A$1.75bil (RM4.73bil).

The deal gives Singapore-listed Wilmar International Ltd control over half of Australia’s raw sugar output.

Wilmar, headed by Robert Kuok’s nephew Kuok Khoon Hong, is 18.34% owned by PPB Group. The two firms are controlled by Kuok Brothers group of companies.

“This latest acquisition proves that Wilmar is well on its way to becoming a dominant global sugar player and will significantly raise the possibility of the injection of Robert Kuok’s sugar business into Wilmar,’’ OSK Research analyst Alvin Tai said in a quick update on Wilmar after the deal was announced yesterday.

According to OSK, Robert Kuok owns some 200,000ha of sugar cane plantation in Indonesia.

Yesterday, CSR announced that it had accepted Wilmar’s bid to buy its sugar and renewable energy unit, Sucrogen Ltd.

In March this year, Wilmar said it plans to start a venture into sugar cane plantation in Indonesia. Wilmar is already the world’s biggest palm oil trader and derives half its revenue from businesses in China.

Wilmar’s purchase price was A$1.347bil for equity and A$403mil for debts, which was 6% higher than the offer by China’s Bright Food Group Co to the CSR board late last week.

“Wilmar intends to build a significant sugar business, utilising its proven integrated agribusiness model to replicate its success in other agri-commodities,’’ it said in a statement posted on its website yesterday.

“The acquisition of Sucrogen will jumpstart this strategy to expand into sugar,’’ it said.

Sucrogen is the largest raw sugar producer in Australia, and through Queensland Sugar Ltd (QSL), the second largest exporter of raw sugar in the world.

Wilmar said it intended to use Sucrogen’s proven expertise in the sugar business to pursue growth strategies in “Indonesia and other high potential Asian markets.’’

Shares in Wilmar shot up 13 cents, or 2.3%, to S$5.88 in Singapore yesterday, while PPB Group shares declined six sen, or 0.4%, to RM15.92 on Bursa Malaysia.

CSR said the deal was expected to be completed by the final quarter of 2010, and was conditional on approval from Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board.

In November last year, PPB Group sold its sugar refineries and sugar cane plantation in Malaysia to Felda for RM1.25bil after four decades in the business. The deal was completed earlier this year.

Malaysians consume some 1.3 million tonnes of sugar a year, and the country needs to import almost all its raw sugar requirement from producers in countries like Australia.

Currently, there are four sugar refineries in the country. Kilang Gula Felda Perlis and Malayan Sugar Manufacturing are now controlled by Felda, while both Kilang Gula Padang Terap and Central Sugar Refinary Sdn Bhd belongs to Tradewinds (M) Bhd.

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