JBS delays US flotation, as cloud grows over Brazil's food industry
19:05 UK, 16th May 2017, by Agrimoney.com

JBS revealed it had delayed, but not ditched, plans for a long-awaited flotation of a Dutch-based subsidiary, despite investigations hanging over the group and Brazil's food industry - into which police announced a fresh probe.

Wesley Batista, the chief executive of the Brazil-based meat giant, said that a US flotation of a portfolio of the group's foreign operations as JBS Foods International in the first half of 2017, as has long been muted, "is not realistic any more".

He cited as cause for the delay "these things going on", amid mass of external investigations into Brazil's food sector, some of which encompass the group, the world's top meatpacker.

External probes

Mr Batista and his brother Joesley, the JBS chairman, were revealed on Friday by court documents to be facing questions by police investigating alleged fraud on loans to the group by BNDES, Brazil's state development bank.

JBS has denied any wrongdoing over the matter, as it has a separate investigation into investments by state-run pension funds which has targeted executives including Joesley Batista.

The company too is among dozens of meat processors probed in the high-profile Operation Weak Flesh investigation announced in March into claims of bribery of food safety officials.

Brazilian police on Tuesday unveiled two further investigations into the food industry one into whether some companies received favourable inspection procedures, and a second into improper protection of operators.

'We are going to see a window'

However, Wesley Batista added that the group had not ruled out an IPO of JBS Foods International - aimed to include a range of foreign businesses and Brazilian poultry unit Seara during the second half of 2017.

"We are going to see a window for the second part of this year," he told investors.

"The intention to list JBS is to create value for our shareholders. So the timing is going to be timing that investors do not have any doubt about what is going on.

"If the market is there, if investors feel comfortable, yes we are going to be ready and prepared.

"We are going to be looking to the market to decide the right time to go."

Investor appetite

The current market has been viewed by many observers as an opportune one for floating meat groups, given a robust rating that investors are giving to the sector, amid a series of takeovers.

Last month, Tyson Foods bought AdvancePierre at a multiple pegged by Bradesco at 14 times earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (ebitda).

Bradesco in January, using a multiple of 6.0 times ebitda, valued JBS Foods International at some R$75bn, equivalent to about $24bn at current exchange rates.

Brazil-based Marfrig Global Foods, one of JBS's closest rivals, last week revealed it had "confidentially" registered its Pennsylvania-based Keystone Foods division for stockmarket flotation in the US.

Real setback

Mr Batista was speaking after JBS unveiled earnings of R$422.3m for the January-to-March quarter a sharp improvement on the R$2.74bn loss a year before, but well below the R$857m-result that investors had expected.

Revenues fell 14.3% to R$37.6m, a decline reflecting in part a strengthening in the real, which hit the competitiveness of Brazilian exports, besides cutting the contribution in real terms from foreign operations.

With the real strengthening to an average of R$3.14 per $1 for the quarter, from R$3.91 in the same period of last year, sales prices of exports from the South American operations dropped by 16.4%.

"We started 2017 performing well in our international business units, boosted by strong demand in the markets where we operate," Mr Batista said.

"Our operations in South America, on the other hand, continued to face a challenging scenario, mainly due to the strong appreciation of the real against the US dollar."

JBS shares stood 7.6% lower at R$9.97 in afternoon deals in Sao Paulo.