March 24, 2009 / 7:09 PM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 2-Viterra mulling acquisitions, sees 'solid year'

* Eyes “platform businesses” like grain, agriproducts * Also looking at milling, processing, crushing operations * Expects “very strong” demand for fertilizer in spring (Adds details on fertilizer and grain demand, outlook)

SASKATOON, Saskatchewan, March 24 (Reuters) - Viterra VT.TO will continue to look for acquisitions outside Canada to add to its grain and value-added businesses, chief operating officer Fran Malecha told a conference on Tuesday.

“We’re looking for platform businesses like our grain and agriproducts in other key origination markets,” Malecha said at the National Bank Financial transportation and logistics conference in Toronto.

The Regina, Saskatchewan-based agribusiness company is also looking at value-added businesses such as milling, processing and crushing operations, he said.

“We’ve been in a market where vendors’ price ideas are coming down and we’ve been patient. So we continue to look at a number of opportunities and will employ the capital on the balance sheet at the right time,” Malecha said.

The company has C$700 million ($574 million) in cash available for growth, he said.

Malecha said the company, whose businesses include grain handling, fertilizer and livestock feed services, expects “very strong” demand for fertilizer this spring based on improving diets in developing countries and population growth. After a large crop last year, the nutrients in soil need replenishment, he said.

The appetite for grains, especially in Asia, will also be strong, he said.

The company has opened a marketing office in Singapore to better access its primary Asian market.

It plans to open an office in Geneva to improve links to the Black Sea region and the demand markets of Europe and the Middle East. Viterra sells grain to more than 50 countries, Malecha said.

Viterra posted a loss of C$33 million ($27 million), or 14 Canadian cents a share, in its first quarter, ended Jan. 31. The loss was largely due to timing issues, like slower shipments and fertilizer sales, but the outlook for the rest of the year is better, Malecha said.

“We do expect a solid year.”

$1=C$1.22 Canadian Reporting by Rod Nickel; editing by Rob Wilson

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