Timbercorp sells almond assets for $128m to Olam

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PHILIP HOPKINS

The Age

September 19, 2009

Sridhar Krishnan, Executive Director of Olam

Timbercorp liquidator KordaMentha said yesterday the agreement was subject to regulatory approvals and might take up to two months to complete.

Olam, a leading global supplier of agricultural products and food ingredients, operates in 60 countries, has more than 6000 customers and last year had sales of $7 billion.

The sale involves 8096 hectares of almond groves near the Murray River around Robinvale in north-west Victoria, and represents about 30 per cent of the Australian almond crop. It also includes 40,825 megalitres of water rights.

About 7000 growers invested in the almond plantings under managed investment schemes, but the proceeds growers and other stakeholders will receive from the transaction are yet to be negotiated.

''That's still unresolved,'' a KordaMentha spokesman said. ''The bottom line is the growers own the crop, but they would claim rights beyond that. The liquidators must set up a process to deal with the situation.''

Another group, Align Funds Management, has been negotiating a plan under which investors would trade their almond assets for units in a listed trust run by Align. Align could not be contacted for comment.

Olam's executive director, Shekhar Anantharaman, said the acquisition would make Olam Australia's largest almond grower and put it among the top-three almond growers globally.

The acquisition would be hard to replicate in any country in the world, he said.

The deal is expected to be earnings and value accretive from the 2010 financial year.

Mr Anantharaman said that despite Timbercorp being in liquidation, the orchards had been well maintained and were expected to produce about 27,000 tonnes of almonds a year at maturity.

The Timbercorp companies were placed in voluntary administration in April and subsequently went into liquidation. The process for realising or recapitalising Timbercorp's olive and forestry assets is continuing.

Olam's head of edible nuts, Ashok Krishen, said Australia was expected to become the No. 2 almond producer globally by 2015. Australia's proximity to China and India positioned Olam to capitalise on increasing export volumes, he said.
Original source: The Age
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