August 27, 2015 / 12:09 AM / 2 years ago

Monsanto, rivals eye next step after Syngenta deal collapse

Corn grows on a field in front of a plant of Swiss agrochemicals maker Syngenta in the nortern Swiss town of Stein July 23, 2015. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Monsanto Co (MON.N), having ditched an audacious $46 billion offer for Syngenta AG SYNN.VX, may downshift to a humbler strategy of beefing up its crop protection portfolio through other acquisitions, partnerships and licensing agreements.

The deal’s collapse leaves Monsanto, Syngenta and other agrochemical sector companies facing a bleak landscape of plummeting grain prices and farm income. In the United States, farmers are tightening their budgets and cutting back on everything from equipment to seeds and pesticides.

On Wednesday, Monsanto said it was focused on its core businesses and plans to resume its two year, $10 billion share repurchase program, which was put on hold while it was bidding for Syngenta.

Monsanto declined to say anything more about its next move, including which companies might be the St. Louis-based firm’s next target or how much it would be willing to spend.

Monsanto President Brett Begemann had previously told Reuters in an interview that a Syngenta deal was not its only option going forward.

“There are other alternatives,” Begemann told Reuters last month.

Speaking at the same time, Michael Frank, vice-president of Monsanto’s global commercial business, said Monsanto wanted to expand its portfolio of crop-protection chemicals and seed-treatment products, with Syngenta or without it.

“If we don’t acquire Syngenta, we’ll still be on Plan A. But there will be a substitute company,” Frank said. “It won’t be Syngenta. It will be somebody else, or somebodies else.”

Or, say analysts, the company could opt to steer away from acquisitions and head into a different direction.

“We would expect Monsanto to continue to pursue further agreements in both licensing further molecules and collaborating with partners on joint development of molecular applications that expand Monsanto’s product offerings,” Canaccord Genuity analysts Keith Carpenter and Vitali Savitski wrote in an analyst report Wednesday.

For months, some of the major players in the farm chemicals and seeds business have been the subject of restructuring talk. During the summer, BASF SE put together loan guarantees for a prospective bid for Syngenta - but wouldn’t submit a bid unless Monsanto made a formal offer.

Meanwhile, activist investors in recent years have pushed DuPont Co DD.N and Dow Chemical DOW.N to divest assets exposed to commodity price swings, in efforts to tap into value not reflected in the parent company stock prices, industry sources said.

“Crop chemical assets are undervalued by the market and therefore any crop chemical asset is attractive,” said Pauline McPherson, co-fund manager of Kames Capital’s global equity fund, which holds Syngenta stock.

Paulson & Co., the hedge fund headed up by billionaire investor John Paulson, took a stake in Syngenta in July and may have tried to pressure its board to negotiate with Monsanto, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Swiss pesticide maker could face further pressure in the coming months from incoming shareholder activists buying stock, said one senior Europe-based investment banker.

“They will be smelling an opportunity,” said the banker, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Still, with Monsanto out of the picture, there are no obvious buyers for Syngenta with the possible exception of BASF (BASFn.DE), the German chemicals group, which lined up a loan package earlier this summer from large multinational banks.

Sources said BASF made the move, in part, so it could be in a position to block Monsanto from becoming the world’s largest agricultural chemical and seeds business.

A BASF spokeswoman told Reuters on Wednesday the company could not comment on the market or other companies.

Reporting By P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago. Additional reporting by Mike Stone in New York, Sinead Cruise in London and Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt; Editing by Christian Plumb

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