Fish Farms Are Next on Menu for New Hope's Billionaire Founder

Liu Yonghao

Billionaire Liu Yonghao.

Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg
  • New Hope Group plans to buy Southeast Asian aquaculture firm
  • Chinese group has $1.5 billion war chest for overseas M&As

The billionaire chairman of New Hope Group Co., China’s largest privately held agricultural company, is looking to buy fish-farming assets in Southeast Asia as part of a 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) push to expand overseas.

“We plan to acquire an aquaculture company,” Liu Yonghao, 64, said in an interview in Beijing. Though he declined to name any companies, Liu said targets need to be sizable and have good natural resources including light, water, land and low-cost labor resources.

Liu’s comments help highlight how Chinese agriculture firms such as New Hope and state-owned China National Chemical Corp. are seeing bigger appetites for overseas assets to feed the world’s largest population. New Hope alone plans to spend 10 billion yuan in the next three to five years on high-end animal protein and food-related assets overseas, spurred by demand from the nation’s expanding middle class.

“We shall go abroad and use our advantages in scale and the market to do acquisitions,” Liu said.

Liu, who founded New Hope and started by selling hog feed, has since expanded operations to all kinds of animal feed and slaughtering businesses along with dairy, finance, real estate, and chemicals. Today, his wealth has grown to more than $5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

New Hope is also looking to acquire livestock-breeding companies overseas, Liu said, citing a lack of such capabilities in China and increasing domestic demand for beef, lamb and seafood.

“Every year we spend quite a lot of money importing animals such as cattle, pigs, chicken, ducks, even seafood like shrimps," said Liu. "This is also one of our investment directions because it takes quite a long time to establish such system of research and development, and to create brand and technology."

New Hope is also eyeing service companies for farming and meat production abroad and beyond food, the company is looking to expand in healthcare by investing $1 billion in the medical sector in the next three to five years, Liu said.

— With assistance by Jill Mao

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