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JBS still keen on U.S. IPO despite scandals

Listed subsidiary would include Alberta beef plant


Sao Paulo | Reuters — JBS SA, the world’s largest meatpacking firm, remains intent on a stock market listing of subsidiary JBS Foods International in the U.S. despite corruption and food safety scandals, executives said on Thursday.

In April all of JBS operations will meet U.S. auditing and compliance requirements under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, JBS management told analysts on a call to discuss fourth-quarter results, moving one step closer to an initial public offering (IPO) of the unit.

“It is the best option to unlock value,” JBS chairman and investor relations officer Jeremiah O’Callaghan said.

In October, the company pulled a planned US$500 million U.S. IPO of JBS Foods International after the scandals in Brazil hurt investor interest in the deal.

Among the international operations that would have been included in JBS’s IPO is its Brooks, Alta. beef packing plant, one of Canada’s largest, with capacity to process up to 4,200 head of cattle per day.

O’Callaghan on Thursday said JBS is still dealing with fallout from plea deals struck by the company’s former chairman and CEO, who admitted to bribing scores of Brazilian politicians. He said JBS was running an internal investigation as part of collaboration efforts with Brazilian and U.S. authorities.

JBS reported an unexpected fourth-quarter net loss late on Wednesday due to currency and hedging effects, as well as weakness at its Brazil beef unit, but overall operational performance remained strong, boosting optimism about the potential U.S. listing.

Analysts at JPMorgan highlighted strong cash flow and the increasingly profitable U.S. beef division in a note to clients suggesting shares could recover from recent underperformance.

JBS shares rose as much as 5.2 per cent in Sao Paulo, trading to 9.36 reais (C$3.66).

Strong cash flow helped the company lower its ratio of net debt to EBITDA to 3.38, the lowest in the industry, according to management.

“We did it faster and better than planned,” said chief operating officer Gilberto Tomazoni, regarding the deleveraging efforts. He said the company will continue reducing net debt through cash generation until reaching a target ratio of two times EBITDA by 2019.

JBS said global demand for animal protein will grow steadily through 2030, and its beef and leather operations in South America are the only units that are not performing well.

“We outperformed our competitors in each of the segments in each of the markets where we operate,” said Andre Nogueira, chief executive of the U.S. business. “From the viewpoint of our JBS USA unit, 2018 will be even better than 2017,” he added.

— Reporting for Reuters by Ana Mano and Paula Laier.

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