November 18, 2015 / 3:17 AM / 2 years ago

UPDATE 3-Monsanto could take lead role in agchem acquisitions-executives

4 Min Read

(Writes through, adds details on China)

By P.J. Huffstutter

ST. LOUIS, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Monsanto Co. executives are discussing whether they should acquire rivals, including top pesticide maker Syngenta AG, company executives said on Tuesday, as talk of consolidation continues in the global agrochemical industry.

"We've had conversations inside" about Syngenta and other agricultural companies, Monsanto President Brett Begemann said at an investor meeting at its headquarters in St. Louis.

Company executives were studying every possibility for consolidation in both the seed and agrochemical sectors.

Monsanto's chief executive, Hugh Grant, also speaking at the investor meeting on Tuesday, said the company is "best placed to be a leading consolidator or a leading partner in an industry that is changing."

The world's largest seed company abandoned a $45 billion bid for rival Syngenta in August and since then, nearly all of the major players in the farm chemicals and seeds business have been the subject of consolidation talk, amid a landscape of plummeting grain prices and farm income.

Last week, Syngenta rejected a $42 billion offer from state-owned China National Chemical Corp, Bloomberg reported. Dupont Co, Dow Chemical Co. and BASF DE have also featured in reports of talks on mergers and acquisitions.

Monsanto's internal discussions, which have been going on since the company walked away from its latest bid for Syngenta, include weighing the benefits of bidding for rivals, Begemann said.

In particular, he said Monsanto is keeping a close eye on farm chemical product lines it could acquire if rivals merged their agricultural businesses -- such as Dow Chemical and Dupont -- and were forced to spin-off assets in order to meet regulatory approvals.

But Begemann said they were focusing on chemistry, not seed, assets for such potential acquisitions.

Grant told investors that he considers China an "opportunity" for Monsanto as rising soybean consumption there drives demand for growing more beans in the United States and South America. In addition, he pointed to the potential for new traits created specifically for China and possibly licensing those traits.

Grant said any deals would need to be a "strategic fit" for Monsanto and provide incremental growth.

But he noted that Monsanto does not need to buy or partner with an agrochemical rival in order to meet its financial forecasts or growth plans.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that Syngenta has been talking to Dupont about merging with its agricultural unit, while Dupont has separately been in talks with Dow Chemical about its seed and farm chemical division.

Earlier this year, BASF put together loan guarantees for a prospective bid for Syngenta, several people with the matter said, but never used the credit facility.

Syngenta, Bayer and Dow could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday. Dupont said it would not comment on rumors or speculation.

"There are a lot of discussions going on, and only a handful that will come to fruition in the future," Begemann said.

He said there was "no new news" regarding what Monsanto might do in terms of a possible offer for Syngenta or any other agrochemical company. He declined to comment on whether there had been talks with Bayer.

Begemann said internal discussions had also looked at the possibility of new partnerships and licensing deals with other companies. He added that executives and staff routinely talk with counterparts at other agrochemical companies.

For now, Monsanto is "staying focused on our core business," Begemann said. "If an opportunity comes along, we'll look at that."

Reporting by PJ Huffstutter in St. Louis; Writing by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by Paul Simao, Grant McCool and Diane Craft

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