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Grain trader Louis Dreyfus to cut costs in ongoing overhaul

Published 11/28/2019, 10:56 AM
Updated 11/28/2019, 10:56 AM
© Reuters. Olympique de Marseille's majority owner, billionaire businesswoman Margarita Louis-Dreyfus attends a news conference in the Velodrome Stadium in Marseille

By Ana Mano and Gus Trompiz

SAO PAULO/PARIS (Reuters) - Louis Dreyfus Company is making sweeping cost cuts, starting with travel, entertainment, hiring and salaries, as the 168-year-old agricultural commodities firm tries to revive dwindling profits.

Global trade tensions and the African Swine Fever epidemic in Asia have piled pressure on grain trading firms as they try to emerge from a period of falling margins. Family-owned LDC, known as Dreyfus, is the "D" of the ‘ABCD’ quartet of global traders that also includes Archer Daniels Midland Co (N:ADM), Bunge Ltd (N:BG) and Cargill Inc.

LDC said an in an internal memo seen by Reuters that five senior executives would lead a review to achieve "cost and productivity gains".

The group is also introducing temporary "measures on travel and entertainment, hiring and salary restrictions", the memo, which was sent to employees on Wednesday, said.

A spokeswoman confirmed the plan in an email, saying LDC aimed to optimize its cost base in a challenging external environment.

LDC said last month that international trade tensions and the spread of a deadly pig disease in China would continue to weigh on profit. It paid out a $428 million dividend- the highest since 2014 - even as first-half earnings slid.

Losses at Brazilian sugar and ethanol unit Biosev SA (SA:BSEV3) and an acrimonious buyout of minority family interests by its main shareholder and chairwoman Margarita Louis-Dreyfus have taken their toll on LDC.

The company said this year it may look at selling a stake to a regional player, adding to speculation about consolidation after takeover approaches for U.S.-based Bunge.

Diversified commodity group Glencore (L:GLEN) made an approach for Bunge two years ago and has said the sector needs consolidating.

COFCO International, the trading arm of Chinese-owned food group COFCO, has also been seen as a potential bidder for other trading firms as it seeks to continue expanding overseas.

LDC has been subject to speculation since Louis-Dreyfus took control in 2009, with the chairwoman at times raising the possibility of a merger or a market listing.

MANAGEMENT RESHUFFLE

Like its peers, LDC has restructured operations, exiting activities including dairy and metals trading while focusing more on food processing, notably in Asia.

The firm has awarded dividends of up to 50% of net profits as Russian-born Louis-Dreyfus has taken on additional debt to acquire minority shares for more than $800 million and support a $1 billion rescue plan for Biosev.

LDC has also been through a series of CEO changes and other management reshuffles since Louis-Dreyfus assumed control of the group following the death of her late husband Robert, whose family founded the company.

This month LDC appointed former head of coffee Michael Gelchie as its new chief operating officer, while promoting Ben Clarkson to be its new coffee head.

LDC has also changed the roles of two other senior executives, its website showed.

Anthony Tancredi, formerly in charge of grains and co-head of the recently merged grain and oilseeds division, has been named to a new position of senior advisor.

Andre Roth has taken sole responsibility for grains and oilseeds after previously heading the oilseed side.

Gelchie and Roth are part of the five-strong group leading the cost review and signed the memo to staff, which said LDC's strategy would not change as it "aims to increase revenue today and for the future".

© Reuters. Olympique de Marseille's majority owner, billionaire businesswoman Margarita Louis-Dreyfus attends a news conference in the Velodrome Stadium in Marseille

The other participants are Chief Financial Officer Federico Cerisoli, Global Head of Risk and Compliance Nigel Mamalis, and Murilo Parada, who heads the juice division and North Latin America zone.

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