‘Teslas’ versus ‘gas engines’: Will salmon farmershave to invest in land-based to keep up?

Undercurrent News‘ most recent webinar yielded some interesting debate on how soon, if at all, land-based salmon farming will hurt the competitiveness of traditionally grown fish.

Experts from the world of seafood mergers and acquisitions (M&A) were split on whether salmon aquaculture companies should be worried about the rise of rms like Atlantic Sapphire in the US. 

“The smaller players — how are they going to manage to compete with the land-based players, for example, in the US?” Asked Ignacio Kleiman of Antarctica Advisors, aiming his question at peers based in Iceland and Norway. 

“I can understand how the large Norwegian [companies] can, but how are smaller players going to compete? Because they probably have much higher costs than the land-based players, at least in the US.”

Magnus Bjarnason, of Iceland’s MAR Advisors, was not too worried, noting that farmed salmon was a global commodity market and that everybody competes with each other already. He also pointed out that there might be some consolidation in Norway among smaller farmers which have  felt “vulnerable” during the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps prompting more cooperation as seen with Salmon Group, a network of family-owned aquaculture companies.

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Downstream, input sectors set to be focus of seafood M&A in 2021

With retail sales booming, processing consolidation will likely form the cornerstone of this year’s mergers and acquisitions (M&A) business, a trio of advisors told Undercurrent News.

Existing sector players, outside investors and alternative proteins are all likely to be pursuing closer retail access in the post-pandemic market, the M&A experts said.

When it comes to the processing sector, it’s here that you see the most fragmentation and the most family-owned businesses, according to Rabobank analyst Gorjan Nikolik. Combined with the

loss of demand for whole fish, that makes it an area ripe for consolidation.

“In recent times, retail has become really strategically important,” Nikolik told Undercurrent, noting that it had been difficult for companies to pursue major acquisitions during the pandemic.

“So 2021 will be potentially a year when a lot of things that people had on their mind will be executed.”

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Lack of ‘confidence’ in China Fishery sale process behind creditor-led option

Two large hedge funds that purchased a sizable portion of the outstanding debt owed by China Fishery Group (CFG) are among those pushing for a creditor-led takeover of the bankrupt Peruvian fishmeal and fish oil producer due to dissatisfaction with the ongoing sale process.

The US funds — Davidson Kempner Capital Management and Monarch Alternative Capital — are leaders among a group of seven senior creditors known as the ‘ad hoc group’ (AHG) that are proposing an alternative resolution to the five-year-old bankruptcy case.

Instead of selling off CFG to a seafood company or investment fund as trustee William Brandt has long proposed, the ad hoc group’s debt-for-equity swap plan would see senior creditors lead CFG out of bankruptcy, operate it for an undetermined period and only then prepare for its eventual transfer in a sale or initial public offering process, sources told Undercurrent News.

Brandt “has been trying to sell the business for going on four years and hasn’t been successful to date. There’s a limit to people’s patience”, a source familiar with the AHG plan told Undercurrent.

CFG is widely seen as the most profitable asset of Hong Kong’s Pacific Andes International Holdings (PAIH), once the world’s 12th-largest seafood company by sales. In late 2016, several large banks that had lent to PAIH and CFG told a US bankruptcy court that they had found over $1 billion in “questionable transactions” and “substantial” fabrications of revenue and payments on the company’s books.

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Post-COVID recovery could see spate of seafood company mergers and acquisitions

When the world begins to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, some prominent seafood executives are predicting a busy period of mergers and acquisitions.

Speaking during the National Fisheries Institute’s 2021 Global Seafood Market Conference’s economic outlook panel, seafood company advisors and CEOs said they expect a combination of factors will lead to increased M&A activity. As companies begin to see a turnaround from the COVID-19-related economic downturn, access to cheap financing could spur companies to look for new opportunities, according to Antarctica Advisors LLC Managing Partner Ignacio Kleiman.

“Money is extremely cheap. Some players see it as an opportunity to grow and consolidate,” Kleiman said. Historically low interest rates, coupled with government-promised support for the industry, will likely spur on M&A activity, he predicted.

“When money is that cheap by historical standards – and you know with so much quantitative easing, it’s going to last for a while – those with a strategic vision can take advantage of that,” Kleiman said. Those factors, he said, point to increase activity.

“There are many forces that point toward more M&A, not less,” he said.

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Glenn Cooke, Ian Smith offer timeline for COVID-19 foodservice recovery

The global COVID-19 pandemic has been a mixed bag for the seafood industry, with retailers notching record seafood sales and the category as a whole seeing gains, even as the foodservice industry virtually collapsed.

That downturn is expected to change direction this year, with foodservice operators optimistic about 2021. Seafood company CEOs and advisors, speaking during the National Fisheries lnstitute’s Global Seafood Market Conference’s economic outlook panel, also expressed optimism about the industry’s recovery. While in the short-term the rebound may be slight, as trend experts have predicted, once relative normalcy returns demand could see a big boost.

“I think the euphoria of people once we get through this is going to be incredible [and] we’re going to see a fast and quick recovery,” Cooke Aquaculture CEO Glenn Cooke said during the panel.

Due to travel restrictions, office closures, and lockdowns, most people haven’t been able to enjoy the restaurant experiences they’re familiar with for months. Cooke and other panel members predicted that will cause a sharp rebound once things reopen.

“As soon as they are vaccinated or in some cases earlier, as the warm weather comes, people are going to escape the cage,” Antarctica Advisors LLC Managing Partner Ignacio Kleiman said.

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Cheap capital fuels M&A push but deals are getting pricier, Cooke says

Central banks’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have contributed to a flood of cheap capital that is adding fuel to the seafood sector’s push to consolidate.

But with more institutional investors, such as private equities and pension funds, getting into the space alongside industry players, company valuations are getting more expensive. That’s at least the view of Glenn Cooke, the CEO and founder of the eponymous Canadian seafood conglomerate.

Cooke, speaking on Feb. 3 as part of a panel during the National Fisheries Institute’s online Global Seafood Market Conference, said that the deal-flow in the sector at present is “on par” with previous years. He added that interest from institutional investors heightens competition for acquisition targets.

“That makes deals a little more expensive,” he said. “You’re seeing multiples on the high side today in seafood, maybe too high, but, for us, we like resource. If we can buy more resource, whether that’s farming or fishing, either one of those resources are of interest for us.”

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Premium, First Nations close CAD 1bn Clearwater acquisition

One of the largest seafood sector deals in recent memory has officially closed.

The CAD 1 billion ($788 million) buyout of Canadian shellfish harvester Clearwater Seafoods by Premium Brands Holdings and a coalition of First Nations is now complete, Clearwater said in a press release.

In January, 99.89% of Clearwater shareholders voted for the deal, which will see food group Premium and the coalition of Mi’kmaq First Nations’ joint venture, FNC Holdings, acquire Clearwater at CAD 8.25 a share. The MacDonald brothers Colin and Mickey as well as John Risley previously owned over 60% of the company collectively.

“We are very excited to have a world-class seafood company like Clearwater join our ecosystem,”said George Paleologou, president and CEO of Premium Brands, in a statement.

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Rodger May, McKinley Capital close deal for Peter Pan

US seafood entrepreneur Rodger May and Alaskan private equity McKinley CapitalManagement have closed a deal for salmon and whitefish processor Peter PanSeafoods from Japan’s Maruha Nichiro.

May and McKinley confirmed to Undercurrent News the deal closed on Dec.31. Undercurrent reported the deal agreement on Nov. 2 after first reporting the interest of McKinley and May, who already owns Alaskan seafood distributorNorthwest Fish Company, in July last year. 

The deal creates a company with sales of over $300 million, as Northwest Fish generates a turnover of between $100m-$125m with Peter Pan at around $200m, depending on the salmon prices, industry sources told Undercurrent. 

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Maruha Nichiro closes deal to offload Peter Pan Seafoods

Maruha Nichiro, the world’s largest seafood company, has finalized the sale of Alaska seafood processor Peter Pan Seafoods, sources familiar with the deal told IntraFish on Monday.

Tokyo-based Maruha Nichiro announced in November it reached a deal to sell the company to an investment group including Alaska-based private equity group McKinley Capital Management and Rodger May, the former owner of Washington State salmon farms now owned by Cooke Aquaculture. The deal closed Dec. 31.

Maruha said at the time it expected a loss of roughly $27.9 million (€23.9 million) on the sale, after several months of unsuccessful efforts to sell the group.

Maruha began the sales process for Peter Pan Seafoods earlier this year, following a dismal 2019 Alaska salmon season. Last year’s salmon season was also a challenge for the group as competition continued to intensify in the state.

Ignacio Kleiman, managing partner at Antarctica Advisors, which is handling the sale, declined to comment on the sale to IntraFish.

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