The world's biggest livestock exporter, WA's Wellard Group, has sold an $83 million stake in the sprawling agribusiness to UK banking giant Standard Chartered to allow it to speed up its international expansion plans.
Wellard, founded in Fremantle in 1979 by butcher and Italian migrant Emilio Balzarini, has secured the cash injection from Standard Chartered's private equity arm through a convertible note that will result in the bank emerging with a "significant minority stake" in Wellard.
The Balzarini family, which owns 95 per cent of the group, will also inject $22 million through a convertible note to retain a majority stake in the business.
Wellard executive chairman Mauro Balzarini said yesterday the funds would allow the group to add to its fleet of livestock carriers and speed up a planned expansion of its primary production operations in Australia and South-East Asia.
"We could have handled what we were doing quite well on our own, but . . . these opportunities are on the market now and this Standard Chartered (deal) will allow us to pursue them a little bit quicker than we would have otherwise," Mr Balzarini said.
"We're very much into vertical integration - from farm gate to plate, if you like."
Mr Balzarini, who is now based in Singapore where his family also owns commercial shipping group Siba Ships, said the landmark deal with Standard Chartered was a major vote of confidence in the Australian agricultural sector.
It caps a period of rapid growth for Wellard, in which it has entered new markets in South America and bought more than 48,000ha of farmland in WA since February 2009.
"There is a lot going on - Wellard is becoming quite a substantial global agribusiness," Mr Balzarini said.
Standard Chartered Private Equity's global head, Alastair Morrison, said the deal would give the bank valuable exposure to the increasing demand for food sources such as grains and proteins in the Middle East and Asia. The bank will appoint a representative to Wellard's board as part of the deal.
From its beginnings as a Middle East-focused live sheep exporter, Wellard has since expanded into shipping, land holdings and mixed farming operations across five continents. It has annual global revenue of more than $600 million.
It is among the country's top grain producers, and last year bought blue-chip Dongara farming property The Grange - formerly owned by the late Multiplex founder John Roberts - in a deal reportedly worth more than $20 million.
Mr Balzarini declined to disclose the terms of the deal, other than to confirm Standard Chartered would become Wellard's second-biggest shareholder on conversion. Wellard received Foreign Investment Review Board approval for the investment.
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