China’s biggest meat processor has offered $4.7bn in cash for Smithfield Foods, in what will be the largest Chinese takeover of a US company if completed.
Shuanghui International said the agreed deal with Virginia-based Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer, would bolster its ability to feed China’s growing middle class while also addressing persistent concerns about food safety in the world’s most populous country.
The deal will face scrutiny in Washington. But because Shuanghui has no US operations, it may be difficult for opponents to argue that the deal should be blocked on antitrust grounds or poses a threat to national security.
“We’re not exporting tanks and guns and cyber security,” said Larry Pope, Smithfield’s chief executive said in an interview. “These are pork chops.”
Washington attitudes towards Chinese investment appear to be relaxing even as the US blames the country for continued cyberattacks. Last year Wanda Group paid $2.6bn for AMC Entertainment in the biggest completed takeover of a US company.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, which will review the Smithfield deal, has also recently approved several major transactions involving Chinese entities. China’s new president, Xi Jinping, will arrive in California next week for a two-day summit with his US counterpart, Barack Obama.
Shuanghui will pay $34 per share for Smithfield and assume the company’s debt, bringing the total value of the proposed deal to about $7bn. The price represents a 31 per cent premium to Smithfield’s Tuesday close of $25.97. Smithfield shares rose 28 per cent on Wednesday to $33.35.
Other meat producers and private equity groups may be interested in Smithfield, which has resisted calls from its largest noninstitutional shareholder to break itself up.
However, people familiar with the deal said Smithfield approached other interested parties before announcing the deal with Shuanghui. A rival buyer would also require approval from China’s Ministry of Commerce to continue selling into the country, a process that often takes up to a year.
While consumers’ appetite for meat is growing in China, the resulting strain on its food production industry is leading to food safety scandals such as the recent discovery of dead pigs in a river near Shanghai.
US pork producers, by contrast, have access to plentiful supplies of clean water and cheap corn, pigs’ main feedstock. The result is large surpluses that drive down prices at a time of reduced domestic consumption.
If completed, the deal will help open the Chinese market for US meat producers and reduce Washington’s trade deficit with Beijing – factors that are likely to win over US farmers and politicians.
Shuanghui’s reputation has, however, been damaged by allegations on Chinese state television that the company used an illegal additive to rear pigs. “This is a very smart move,” said Shaun Rein of China Market Research in Shanghai. “[Shuanghui] want to capitalise on the trust that Chinese consumers place in American food safety standards.”
Goldman Sachs has an indirect minority investment in Shuanghui.
Barclays advised Smithfield while Morgan Stanley advised Shuanghui.
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