(Adds details on divestment announcement)
By Tatiana Bautzer and Michael Hirtzer
SAO PAULO/CHICAGO, June 20 (Reuters) - Brazilian meatpacker JBS SA revealed plans to sell assets worth $1.8 billion on Tuesday, putting dairy, poultry and cattle feeding units on the block to cut debt after a corruption scandal raised concerns about its financing costs.
JBS, whose controlling shareholder recently agreed to pay a massive leniency fine after becoming embroiled in sweeping graft probes that have ensnared politicians and executives, said in a securities filing that its board and state development bank BNDES still had to approve the planned asset sales.
The sales, which aim to raise 6 billion reais ($1.8 billion), include a 19.2 percent stake in Brazil-based dairy company Vigor Alimentos SA, along with its Northern Ireland unit Moy Park Ltd (IPO-MOP.L) and Five Rivers Cattle Feeding in North America.
The largest asset on the block is Moy Park, which JBS bought from Brazilian rival Marfrig Global Foods SA two years ago for $1.5 billion.
Moy Park supplies 25 percent of chicken consumed in western Europe, according to its website. It is one of Britain’s top 10 food companies, with 13 processing and manufacturing units in Northern Ireland, England, France, the Netherlands and Ireland.
Five Rivers, the biggest U.S. cattle feeding operation, has a combined capacity of more than 980,000 head of cattle and locations in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, and Idaho, according to its website. It handles nearly 10 percent of cattle placed annually on U.S. feedlots, according to the Livestock Marketing Information Center.
Five Rivers also manages a 75,000-head capacity feedyard in the Canadian province of Alberta.
Just two weeks ago, JBS said core U.S. assets were not for sale.
JBS bought Five Rivers from Smithfield Foods Inc, the world’s biggest pork producer, in 2008, along with other beef assets. Smithfield is now interested in getting back into the U.S. beef business, as well as poultry, its owner China-based WH Group Ltd told Reuters earlier this month.
Smithfield declined to comment on Tuesday when asked if it was interested in the Five Rivers assets.
Cargill Inc, another major U.S. beef processor, also recently exited the cattle feeding business.
Concerns that JBS might sell cattle slaughter operations, which could have cut into demand for feeder cattle, pushed U.S. feeder cattle futures to nearly a two-month low of 140.775 cents per pound after the JBS announcement. They later rebounded to trade down 0.075 cent at 144.925 cents.
“Originally, we were unsure if a packer would have to close a plant or something like that. This is just divesting itself from a feeding unit that someone else could buy and operate,” said David Hales, a U.S. cattle analyst.
JBS shares were down 4.4 percent at 6.07 reais in afternoon trading in Sao Paulo as the benchmark Ibovespa index fell around 2 percent.
JBS has yet to hire an investment bank to sound out potential bidders, a person with direct knowledge of the company’s strategy told Reuters, asking for anonymity to discuss the matter freely.
A sale of Vigor, which is majority-controlled by JBS’ parent, J&F Investimentos SA, has already been entrusted to two investment banks, Reuters reported last month. They have contacted French dairy producers Danone SA and Groupe Lactalis SA, Mexico’s Grupo Lala SAB de CV and Switzerland’s Emmi AG to analyze the business. JBS has a minority stake in Vigor.
$1 = 3.2996 reais Reporting by Tatiana Bautzer in Sao Paulo and Michael Hirtzer in Chicago; Additional reporting by Guillermo Parra-Bernal and Silvio Cascione in Brasilia and Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Daniel Flynn, Jo Winterbottom, Paul Simao and Lisa Shumaker