(Adds comments from major Marfrig shareholder)
By Alberto Alerigi
SAO PAULO, Aug 15 (Reuters) - Brazilian meatpacker Marfrig Global Foods SA expects to close the sale of its U.S. chicken processing unit, Keystone Foods, in the next few weeks, executives told journalists on Wednesday.
Chief Financial Officer Eduardo Miron said the company is discussing the transaction in the United States this week. “We can close the deal any moment,” Miron said.
Chairman and major shareholder Marcos Molina said the Keystone sale is the company’s “number one priority.” Proceeds will be used to reduce Marfrig’s debt, Molina added.
Tyson Foods entered into exclusive talks to buy Keystone, a leading supplier of chicken nuggets to fast-food chain McDonald’s Corp in late July, Reuters reported, citing a source with knowledge of the matter. Miron declined to elaborate on the potential acquirer of the U.S unit.
The company aims to reduce net debt to under 2.5 times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, a common gauge of operational profit known as EBITDA, by the end of the year, he said. Marfrig ended the first half with net debt of 4.2 times EBITDA.
Common shares were down 3.9 percent in afternoon trading, at 6.88 reais, after the company reported a wider loss in the first half of the year than in the same period a year earlier.
Miron said Marfrig still is seeking to sell its remaining plant in Argentina after the sale of some units to Brazil’s BRF seven years ago. (Writing by Tatiana Bautzer Editing by Bill Trott and Steve Orlofsky)