ADM Makes Takeover Approach to Bunge

Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM) has made a takeover approach to Bunge Ltd., according to people familiar with the matter, setting up a possible bidding war after Glencore PLC earlier made an overture to the agricultural powerhouse.

Details of the ADM approach are unclear and it’s possible neither company would succeed in buying Bunge, which had a market value of about $9.8 billion as of Friday afternoon. ADM’s valuation was $22.6 billion.

Mining conglomerate Glencore approached White Plains, N.Y.-based Bunge, which ranks among the world’s largest traders and processors of crops like soybeans and corn, The Wall Street Journal reported in May. The two companies have a standstill arrangement that temporarily prevents Glencore from making a hostile bid for Bunge. It’s unclear whether the expression of interest from ADM negates the standstill, which expires in coming weeks, and enables Glencore to make another move now.

ADM and Bunge represent the “A” and “B” in the so-called ABCDs, the global commodity-trading companies that dominate the world-wide flow of basic foodstuffs. Minnesota-based Cargill Inc. and Louis Dreyfus Commodities, headquartered in the Netherlands, are the other two.

A deal with Bunge would represent a strategic shift for Chicago-based ADM, which competes with Bunge in the business of buying, selling and processing crops. While ADM maintains one of the world’s largest agricultural trading networks, the company in recent years has prioritized investing in food ingredients and flavorings, which executives tout as more profitable and more stable than the sometimes-volatile grain industry.

A combination between ADM and Bunge would likely face stiff regulatory hurdles, given the companies’ competing grain facilities, shipping terminals and processing plants.

Glencore’s agricultural division has a smaller presence than ADM’s and Bunge’s in key crop-exporting bread baskets like the U.S. and Brazil, so a Glencore deal could face fewer such hurdles.

A deal could fortify the companies at a time when agricultural traders are struggling. A string of bumper crops in North America, South America and Eastern Europe have swelled stockpiles and pushed down agricultural commodity prices.

Ample supplies mean fewer and smaller price swings, making it harder for grain companies to make profitable trades. Low prices have also left farmers reluctant to sell crops to grain companies, with many instead choosing to stash away crops on their own farms and wait for prices to improve. And food companies that buy raw or semi-processed grain from commodity firms are placing fewer long-term orders, since prices are expected to remain low.

Bunge shares have given back their sharp gain after the Journal reported on Glencore’s approach, as a result of poor earnings.

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