BUSINESS

Head office presence in Sask. 'important consideration' in Viterra deal: Wall

03/16/2012 02:36 EDT | Updated 05/16/2012 05:12 EDT
REGINA - Saskatchewan's premier says the future of Viterra Inc.'s head office in Regina would be an important factor in deciding whether any takeover of the grain handler is of net benefit to the province.

"If and when an offer is tabled, our government will thoroughly evaluate the proposal to determine whether it provides a net benefit to Saskatchewan and Canada," said Brad Wall in an emailed statement Friday.

Canada's biggest publicly traded grain handler (TSX:VT) has put in place a process to handle "expressions of interest" from potential bidders, but so far no offers have been announced and the company says there's no assurance one will come forward.

An evaluation would weigh several factors, including the impact on the provincial economy, on farmers and on provincial revenues, the premier said.

"An enhanced head office presence and more jobs in Saskatchewan would be a benefit to our province, both in terms of positive impact on the economy and on provincial revenues," Wall said.

"A diminished head office presence would obviously have the opposite effect. Head office presence would not be the only consideration, but it will be an important consideration in terms of determining net benefit."

Viterra has about 550 employees in Regina.

A foreign takeover of Viterra would face a review under the Investment Canada Act to see if it would be a net benefit to Canada.

In 2010, Saskatchewan undertook a net benefit review of BHP Billiton's ultimately unsuccessful US$40-billion bid for Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan (TSX:POT). The study formed the basis of Saskatchewan's opposition to that deal and recommendation to Ottawa, which decides on such matters.

Unlike potash, a key crop nutrient that can be found in few places around the globe, Viterra does not fit Saskatchewan's definition of a "strategic resource," Wall has said.

U.S. companies Archer Daniels Midland and Bunge Ltd., as well as Hong Kong-based Noble Group Ltd., have reportedly been kicking Viterra's tires.

There have also been reports of a three-way deal between Switzerland's Glencore, Calgary-based Agrium (TSX:AGU) and Winnipeg's Richardson family — a deal that would leave much of Viterra in Canadian hands.

Viterra shares closed at $16.21 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Friday, making it worth more than $6 billion. Before the company revealed the takeover interest a week ago, the stock was at about $11.