August 27, 2015 / 9:25 AM / 2 years ago

Syngenta management faces pressure to appease investors

4 Min Read

Flowers grow in front of Swiss agrochemicals maker Syngenta's logo at the company's headquarters in Basel August 19, 2015.Arnd Wiegmann

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Syngenta SYNN.VX management faced pressure on Thursday to offer tangible rewards to shareholders after the Swiss pesticides company turned its back on a deal with unwanted American suitor Monsanto (MON.N).

With no alternative bidder seen on the horizon, analysts speculated that the company could buy back shares as a short-term measure to help win back investor confidence.

Shares in Syngenta rose five percent to 325 Swiss francs on Thursday, having plunged 18 percent in the previous session when U.S. seeds giant Monsanto Co. (MON.N) abandoned its pursuit of a deal.

Monsanto had been prepared to pay a headline price of 470 Swiss francs per share, valuing the company at $47 billion.

Since the price would have been partly paid in Monsanto shares, which have dropped, the package would have been worth 433 francs per share by Tuesday's closing price, according to Syngenta.

Analysts at Zuercher Kantonalbank said the gap between the current share price and bid proposal could force the hand of Syngenta management.

"The pressure from Syngenta shareholders will arguably build up quickly to pursue changes that increase value. These could be announced soon," they said in a note.

Syngenta said in a statement on Wednesday it was committed to accelerating shareholder value creation. A spokesman said the company would not provide specific comments on measures to be taken.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts said that might mean there was room for share buybacks at Syngenta.

Increasing net debt to two times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) could free up 3.6 billion euros for shareholders. The multiple was 1.34 at the end of June, financial reports show.

"Syngenta management are likely to be under pressure to make the situation more palatable with shareholders," the brokerage said.

No New Bid

No alternative bidder was seen emerging, even though sources told Reuters this month that BASF (BASFn.DE) was readying debt funding to potentially thwart any Monsanto move with a counter bid.

"There will be no alternative bidder, we believe," said Berenberg analyst John Philipp Klein, adding that BASF would balk at the integration costs, Bayer was more focused on pharma than on pesticides, while Dow Chemical (DOW.N) and DuPont (DD.N) had no shareholder support for such a move.

A senior Europe-based investment banker said Monsanto's most recent bid price was prohibitive for others and it was impossible for Syngenta to sell itself for a lower price.

"Nobody wants to pay that price," the banker said.

Liberum analyst Sophie Jourdier said for now, Syngenta's dividend yield of 3.7 percent and a strong balance sheet would keep the stock from falling below the low 300s.

Syngenta's management, which has rebuffed Monsanto's repeated approaches, has said it can create value under its own steam and that product development and cost-cutting efforts will bear more fruit than in the past.

The company last month reaffirmed its target for a 24-26 percent margin on earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) over sales for 2018.

That is seen by many analysts and investors as a challenge amid weak agricultural markets in the United States and Brazil, coming from just 19.3 percent in 2014 and a projected 20 percent for this year.

Editing by Keith Weir

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