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LONDON/NEW YORK/PARIS, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Louis Dreyfus Commodities is seeking buyers for its orange juice and fertiliser units as the global merchant focuses on higher-margin activities, sources said, the latest firm to take steps to weather weak commodity markets.
The company had been actively marketing the orange juice and fertiliser businesses for some months, having appointed banks to lead the sales processes, sources said. Another source said the trading group was also looking to spin off its metals and dairy businesses.
A company spokeswoman declined to comment.
"They are recalibrating their portfolio... They are going back to the core and looking at where the margins are," said one source.
The vast juice operations - one of the world's biggest - include seven processing factories in Brazil, the United States and China, as well as orange groves in top grower Brazil and a global trading network.
In the competitive fertilizer market, the firm is one of the largest distributors in West Africa, works extensively in South America and has begun expanding in Australia, according to its website.
The search for suitors comes as the 164-year-old firm overhauls its top management just months after installing a new chief and seeks to cut costs after reporting a sharp drop profits in the first six months of the year.
Like its peers, Louis Dreyfus has been buffeted by falling prices and volatility that have eroded margins for trading commodities from copper to grains to seeds.
For the broader market, the potential retreat from juice and fertilizers reflects torrid conditions in those industries as demand and prices shrink.
Randy Freeman, senior orange juice trader based in the United States, left the company this week after more than three decades at the firm, a fourth source said.
Last year, the company's juice division implemented a cost-cutting program and lowered inventories to deal with shrinking demand and crops hit by greening disease that attacked trees in Florida, the top U.S. growing state, according to its annual report.
Orange processors have also struggled as consumers drink less juice from concentrate.
Louis Dreyfus, one of the "ABCD" quartet of traders which dominate global agricultural trading along with Archer Daniels Midland Co, Bunge Ltd and Cargill Inc, is in the midst of a management shake-up.
The group has streamlined its management structure by reducing the number of senior executive committees from three to two, information on its website showed, less than three months after promoting Gonzalo Ramirez Martiarena to become chief executive of the family-owned firm.
Former cotton head Anthony Tancredi was named head of the company's sugar business, which was said to be struggling as years of excess production punish prices.
Tancredi has been replaced by Tim Bourgois, who was most recently the company's global cash trading manager for cotton.
Louis Dreyfus' privately held status has shielded it from some of the turmoil caused by the commodity market downturn that has hit listed rivals such as Glencore Plc.
But media reports have said majority shareholder Margarita Louis-Dreyfus may consider bringing in outside investors to fund the purchase of more shares from minority family shareholders.
Its rivals have also put assets on the block and slash costs and debts. Noble Group Ltd's is in talks to sell its remaining 49-percent stake in its agribusiness to China's food giant COFCO as it looks to shore up its balance sheet.
Reporting by Sarah McFarlane in London, Christine Prentice and Josephine Mason in New York and Gus Trompiz in Paris; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle, Jane Merriman and Lisa Shumaker