By Hugh Bronstein
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Commodities trader Glencore Agriculture has bid $325 million for the minority stake in Argentine soy crushing plant Renova held by bankrupt family-owned company Vicentin, two sources close to the negotiations told Reuters.
Rotterdam-based Glencore made an initial offer which expired at the end of March, the people said. It is now preparing to renew that offer, although the global coronavirus pandemic may impact the process, they added. Glencore and Vicentin declined to comment.
Renova, with 20,000 tonnes of daily crushing capacity, is one of the world's top facilities for crushing soy, an all-important industry for Argentina. The South American grains powerhouse is the top exporter of soy-based feed used to nourish pork and poultry in markets concentrated in Europe and Asia.
The sector, Argentina's key provider of export dollars, is critical as the country strives to pay its debts in the face of a recession made worse by the pandemic. The health crisis has slowed the flow of soy to crushing plants in Argentina as the government negotiates with municipal authorities to allow the free passage of cargo trucks trough their jurisdictions.
Renova had been owned 50-50 by Glencore and Vicentin until the local company ran out of money late last year. Glencore bought an additional 16.7% of Renova in December - bringing its total stake to 66.7% - and is now angling to purchase the rest.
Vicentin, founded in 1929, was once Argentina's top exporter of processed soy. It stopped crushing after defaulting on its debt but Glencore has continued paying Renova employees in anticipation of an eventual takeover, the sources said.
The judge overseeing Vicentin's bankruptcy proceedings was informed of the $325 million bid weeks ago, under an understanding that the offer would expire at the end of March.
"Glencore plans to renew its offer to Vicentin for the remaining shares of Renova," one of the sources with direct knowledge of the matter said, asking not to be named because the talks remained private.
"They should end up working with the same $325 million bid they had last month," said the source, acknowledging that the coronavirus crisis will have to be taken into consideration, and may put downward pressure on the bid.
The original bid had not been previously reported.
A second industry source close to the talks who asked not to be named confirmed Glencore's bid was expected to be renewed.
"Vicentin should be collecting $325 million from Glencore, and it is asking farmers to forgive half the debts owed to them by the company. Vicentin still has its crushing plant at San Lorenzo, which they can also sell or rent out," the person said.
Like the Renova facility, Vicentin's San Lorenzo plant is located in the key agricultural export hub of Rosario.
"Vicentin wants to restart crushing at Renova, but they will not be able to do any important volume of business before the sale of its remaining shares is settled," the source said.
Vicentin went broke after going on a credit-fueled expansion last year. Argentine political uncertainties related to the October 2019 presidential election sparked a market crash and led international banks to pull back from the crisis-prone country, further pressuring the company.
Vicentin has more than $300 million in commercial debt and more than $1 billion in loans from local and international banks. Once restructuring talks conclude with farmers, it is expected to start talks with the banks.
(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein in Buenos Aires; Additional reporting by Maximilian Heath in Buenos Aires; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Paul Simao)