Smithfield deal still in question

Updated: 2013-09-05 10:55

By Michael Barris in New York (China Daily)

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A claim by a key shareholder in Smithfield Foods Inc that it has lined up buyers willing to pay more for the US pork giant than the $4.7 billion offered by China's Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd is being dismissed by an analyst as "hot air" aimed at getting a better deal for shareholders.

And a chief agriculture economist for Wells Fargo & Co said the claim by Starboard Value LP to have received indications of interest that imply a value "substantially" above the purchase price offered by Shuanghui raises questions.

Starboard, a New York-based hedge fund that holds a 5.7 percent stake in Smithfield, the world's largest hog farmer and pork processor, told shareholders in a letter on Tuesday that it received written interest from other parties who would pay "substantially" more for the Virginia-based company than the $34 a share that China's largest meat producer has accepted. The transaction - which also includes $2.38 billion in assumed debt - would be the biggest Chinese takeover of a US company.

Starboard also said in the letter that it plans to vote against the deal to force Smithfield to postpone a special meeting scheduled for Sept 24 so the fund can get time to find a more lucrative deal for shareholders.

Jim Fink, senior online editor for Investing, was skeptical of Starboard's claims. He said Starboard's description of the indications of interest as "non-binding" was "hot air" and "nothing serious".

In July, Starboard said it hired New York-based Moelis & Co and Business Development Asia LLC to get a better offer for Smithfield shareholders. Starboard has said it believes that Virginia-based Smithfield would be worth more if it were broken into three parts - US pork production, hog farming and international sales of fresh and packaged meats - and then sold. The investment firm estimated the company's value at $9 billion to $10.8 billion.

"I doubt that breaking up Smithfield's businesses into pieces would generate a higher combined value," Fink said. "There is substantial value inherent in a vertically-integrated pork business - for example, quality control - that would be lost in a breakup."

Starboard did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

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