Syngenta May Reconsider Seed Asset Sale, Investor Group Says

  • Shareholder group that has criticized company met chairman
  • No sale would call into question share buybacks, group says

Syngenta AG, the Swiss pesticide maker that’s rejected two takeover offers this year, may reconsider the planned sale of its flower- and vegetable-seed units, according to a group of investors that said it met with Chairman Michel Demare.

The potential change was disclosed in a Nov. 26 meeting with Demare, the Alliance of Critical Syngenta Shareholders said in a letter to its members, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News. In recent months, the group has publicly opposed the sale of the seed assets and has criticized Syngenta’s management for the way it handled a takeover bid from Monsanto Co.

"We were also left with a sense that Syngenta’s previously announced share buyback would not occur if the divestitures did not proceed as those divestitures were necessary to fund the share buyback," the group said in the letter, which was signed by its managing director, Folke Rauscher.

Paul Minehart, a U.S.-based spokesman for Basel, Switzerland-based Syngenta, said he couldn’t immediately comment on the letter.

Syngenta shares fell as much as 0.7 percent and were trading nearly unchanged at 369.50 Swiss francs as of 11:52 a.m. in Zurich, giving the company a market capitalization of 34.4 billion Swiss francs ($34 billion).

Syngenta announced in September plans divest the seed units and buy back more than $2 billion of shares. Vegetable seeds, which generated $663 million of revenue last year, could fetch more than $2.5 billion, analysts at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. said at the time.

Syngenta is under particular scrutiny at the moment as speculation swirls about potential takeovers in the global crop-chemicals business. The Swiss company revealed its intention to sell the seed assets days after Monsanto withdrew its $46.5 billion takeover bid, which Syngenta had rejected. Syngenta has also received -- and rejected -- an offer from China National Chemical Corp., people with knowledge of the matter said last month. Both DuPont Co. and Dow Chemical Co. have said that they’ve held discussions about deals involving their respective agriculture units.

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