Elders in profit turnaround

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

Elders will expand its live export business and try to increase its footprint in the grains industry after making a long-awaited return to profit.

The 175-year-old agribusiness signalled the moves and a push to increase market share in financial services after reporting a $3 million profit for the 12 months to September 30.

The result marked a big turnaround on last year's $505 million loss after Elders cut costs and sold non-core assets to reduce net debt from $255.2 million to $137.6 million.

Chief executive Mark Allison said Elders was preparing business plans to expand its cattle operations in Indonesia and its NSW feedlot.

It is also eying growth in Vietnam and China once protocols on the export of live feeder and slaughter cattle are finalised.

Elders is already a dominant player in livestock but is keen to use its rural network to grab a bigger slice of the grain industry.

Mr Allison said Elders wanted to form a long-term partnership with a key player and was looking for expressions of interest.

"Our current partner is ADM (Archer Daniels Midland) and that has been working well over the last few years," he said.

"Whether it is ADM or someone else will be determined through the process. We see our national footprint, access to all grain areas, our strong agronomic position with a hundred agronomists, our smart farmer program and our knowledge as a key benefit in such a partnership."

Mr Allison comments indicate Elders wants more than what ADM has offered so far.

However, the US company - which had its takeover bid for GrainCorp blocked by the Federal Government last year - continues to make a big impression on the local industry.

ADM will use the newest vessel in its fleet to make the biggest shipment of canola from Australian shores.

The Harvest Frost, a post-panamax bulk carrier commissioned last month, docked at CBH's Kwinana grain terminal at the weekend. It is being loaded with 77,000t of WA canola purchased from CBH for processing at the ADM crushing plant in Rotterdam.

Mr Allison said any moves Elders made in the grains and live export businesses would be based on its "capital light" operating model.

The company cut 400 jobs last year and is down to less than 2000 full-time staff.

Mr Allison said Elders would tread carefully in trying to capitalise on the free trade agreement with China.

Its established business arm in China has focused on supplying restaurants and hotels but is working on plans to target the wholesale market in China with top-end cuts of red meat.

Elders shares closed up 1¢ yesterday at 21¢.

'Whether it is ADM or someone else will be determined through the process.'" Elders chief executive *Mark Allison *

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