Bunge to Scoop Up Corn Products for $4.4 Billion

Fertilizer producer and oilseed processor Bungesaid it would buy Corn Products Internationalfor $4.4 billion to gain a leading position in finished corn products such as starches and sweeteners.

Matt Rourke

The deal, which unites two of the oldest U.S. agricultural businesses, calls for the exchange of one share of Corn Products for $56 in Bunge stock, a 31 percent premium to the company's closing price of $42.90 on Friday.

Bunge, the No. 3 player in global agribusiness by revenue behind Cargill and Archer-Daniels-Midland, expects the transaction to lead to annual savings of $100 million to $120 million.

"Our first take is that this is a good deal for both companies," Citibank analyst David Driscoll said in a note to investors. "Corn Products gets a substantial premium to its prior closing price ... and Bunge uses its very strong stock as its currency to do the deal."

Shares of Corn Products were up about 17 percent, while Bunge was down about 11 percent, reversing gains made earlier in the day.

The deal will also expand Bunge's operations in growth markets and diversify its sources of revenue with a "solid cash-flow business," Chief Executive Alberto Weisser said.

The acquisition should add to earnings by 2010 or late 2009, Weisser said on a conference call.

"I see there is some acceleration in growth," he said. "Now how this goes out in EPS and growth rates, I don't know."

Separately, Bunge raised its 2008 earnings forecast range by more than $2 a share, driven by strong demand for fertilizer and the continued strength in oilseed processing margins.

Soaring Corn Prices

The deal comes as ethanol production, as well as demand for food in developing economies such as India and China, is driving up prices for corn.

Corn prices in the United States have topped $7 per bushel this month, about double the levels of a year ago, as flooding in the Midwest has wiped out wide swathes of agricultural production.

The deal is valued at $4.8 billion, including about $414 million of Corn Products' net debt.

Stockholders of Corn Products, which has leading market shares in South America, Mexico, Canada and Pakistan, will own about 21 percent of Bunge once the deal closes.

The combined company will have about 32,000 employees and operate in 40 countries. Neither company expects to close any industrial facilities as a result of the transaction, Bunge said.

Bunge said it now expected 2008 earnings per share of $9.35 to $9.65, up from a prior outlook of $7.10 to $7.40. That does not reflect the acquisition, which the company expects to close in the fourth quarter.

Analysts had been expecting Bunge to earn $7.59 a share in 2008, according to Reuters Estimates.

"We continue to benefit from good fundamentals in our core markets," Chief Financial Officer Jacqualyn Fouse said in a statement. "Despite the higher commodity prices, customer demand has been firm."

Still, she said, high prices created challenges in food production, and "prudent management of working capital and risk" would be essential in coming months.

Bunge, based in White Plains, New York, has more than 25,000 employees.

Westchester, Illinois-based Corn Products provides corn syrup to beverage makers like Coca-Cola, and customers include Kellogg, Unileverand Nestle.

Credit Suisse Securities (USA) and Morgan Stanley and Co are Bunge's financial advisers in the deal. Lazard is Corn Products's financial adviser.