Decision time for Huon's foreign takeover after the all clear from government

Without a second competing takeover offer, shareholders will vote on the JBS proposal after the government all-clear.
Without a second competing takeover offer, shareholders will vote on the JBS proposal after the government all-clear.

Brazilian meat processing giant JBS is a key step closer to owning Tasmanian salmon farming business Huon Aquaculture.

Despite the protests of Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest, the Foreign Investment Review Board has approved JBS' takeover plans.

Huon is Australia's second biggest aquaculture company.

The final decision remains in the hands of shareholders.

JBS' original takeover offer of $3.85 a share valued the company at about $540 million, while Dr Forrest has moved to block the bid by doubling its own Huon shareholding to 18.5 per cent.

Huon this week informed the Australian Stock Exchange of FIRB's approval for the JBS bid, saying it had "satisfied the FIRB conditions".

For its part, Huon is recommending the JBS to its shareholders saying the $3.85 per share offer "provides Huon shareholders with certainty of value for your entire investment in Huon and represents a material premium to recent historical trading prices".

Huon's board is now considering whether it will pay a special dividend of $0.125 per share if the takeover is successful.

In its statement to the ASX, Huon said no "competing proposals" have been received since the takeover was proposed.

JBS has also announced an off-market takeover bid at the same price of $3.85/share it offered for its original takeover plan.

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The scheme was to have restructured the salmon farmer's assets and transferred ownership to JBS, if the offer received 75pc shareholder support.

The new off-market bid will require a minimum acceptance of just 50.1pc of Huon's shares.

Shareholders need to vote this week on the proposals.

Huon chairman and former dairy boss Neil Kearney said FIRB's decision was another important step in securing the future of Huon, its 800-plus employees and the hundreds of Tasmanian businesses who work with the company.

"In addition to its commitment to invest in the business and our people, JBS has committed to maintaining our world leading farming practices to support long-term sustainable growth," he said.

Dr Forrest had taken aim at what he saw as a poor record of sustainability in the salmon industry.

He said his investment in Huon was driven by a determination to turn the "little Aussie champion's" attention to greater environmental priorities, including eliminating the use of other fish in the feed meal used on its ocean salmon farms.

"I'd like to send a message to my friends at Huon and JBS - protein production from animals must be fully sustainable, humane with no pain, no fear, and not harmful to the environment," he said.

In response, Mr Kearney said Huon had established the highest standards of animal husbandry, biosecurity, environmental management, and sustainable farming practices and JBS would continue the uncompromising approach.

"Importantly, JBS also has the proven skills and expertise to access new international markets for Huon's premium products," he said.

The company's annual meeting will be held Friday.

Huon shares traded around $2.75 in the week before JBS made its first offer, which had support from Huon founders Peter and Frances Bender.

The price climbed to $3.83/share this week on the news of the FIRB approval.

After the Benders committed their shares to the Brazilians, JBS is understood to now hold at least 40pc of Huon, while another significant shareholder, Australian Super, has about 12pc.

This story Decision time for Huon's foreign takeover after all clear from government first appeared on Farm Online.