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Malaysia IOI says worst is over for planters
 
News From : DagangHalal.com (7/3/2009)

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia July 2 - IOI Corp <IOIB.KL>, Malaysia's No 2 planter, said on Thursday that the worst was over for the plantation sector as palm oil prices have recovered from last year's slump although M&A activity would be muted.

Earnings of Malaysian palm oil producers plunged in the first quarter as crude palm oil prices more than halved from a year ago.

IOI, valued at $8.37 billion, saw net profit nearly wiped out during January-March due to weak crude palm oil prices and large foreign translation losses on its U.S. dollar borrowings.

Sime Darby <SIME.KL>, Malaysia's top planter, reported a 85 percent drop in net profit while third-ranked Kuala Lumpur Kepong <KLKK.KL> saw net profit down 52 percent in the same period. "It's quite obvious it will be better. The industry including ourselves expects to see much better fourth quarter (April-June) operating results," IOI Executive Director Lee Yeow Chor told Reuters at the company's headquarters in the administrative capital of Putrajaya.

Malaysia is the world's second-largest palm oil producer after Indonesia.

Crude palm oil prices hit a record 4,486 ringgit a tonne in March 2008 before collapsing at the height of the global financial meltdown and triggering speculation that distressed plantation firms starting out would sell.

But Lee said the opportunities for merger and acquisition in the sector are hard to find now as the palm oil price recovery helped smaller firms hold out for better deals.

"Because the sharp price drop has not really been for a long time, the pressures on them (smaller planters), in terms of cashflow or repayment of bank borrowings is not so great."

BRIGTHER OUTLOOK

IOI, which owns oil palm estates in Malaysia and Indonesia, saw net profit for the third-quarter to March plunge 94 percent to 37.36 million ringgit from a year ago on an unrealised forex translation loss of 232.4 million ringgit. [ID:nKLR496786]

The sharp drop in third-quarter earnings was due mainly to "a lot of translation adjustments" on its U.S. dollar debt, said Lee, adding that IOI expects the forex losses to reverse in the upcoming quarterly results.

"For fourth quarter with the weakening of the U.S. dollar, from end-March of around 3.63 ringgit, we expect to have some gains in currency translation for U.S. dollar borrowings," said Lee.

"We borrow U.S. dollars, because it corresponds with our palm oil revenue, so that is a natural hedge between our borrowings and receipt of revenue," he added.

BANKING ON ASIAN DEMAND

Palm oil prices <KPOc3> have now recovered more than 60 percent from a low of 1,331 ringgit ($378.8) per tonne in October on surging Asian demand as well as tight Malaysian palm oil stock levels in the first few months of 2009.

"We have always thought that the low price level in the first quarter of this year was not a sustainable level to begin with. We have always expected the price to move up," said Lee.

"The major consuming countries, China and India, their economies have not been that badly affected by the prevailing global downturn," he said.

Lee said Malaysian palm oil production should pick up in the second half of the year due to the seasonal uptick in output as yield stress fades. He pegged June palm oil stocks at 1.5 million tonnes, an increase of 9.5 percent from a month earlier.

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