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CEO shake-up at Canada’s Nutrien could pave way to M&A: shareholders

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By Rod Nickel and Maiya Keidan

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) – Investors expect the new chief executive of Canada‘s Nutrien Ltd to swing deals as part of a more aggressive growth strategy, after an abrupt shake-up at Canada‘s biggest agriculture company.

Nutrien, the world’s biggest fertilizer producer by capacity, surprised shareholders on Sunday by promoting its chairman, Mayo Schmidt, to CEO, replacing Chuck Magro, who had led the company since it formed from Agrium’s 2018 merger with Potash Corp.

Schmidt, raised on a Kansas farm, is best known for leading the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool grain cooperative’s acquisition of competitor Agricore United in 2007, creating Viterra Inc, one of Canada‘s biggest grain handlers. He subsequently bought Australia’s ABB Grain before leading the sale of Viterra to commodity trader Glencore PLC in 2012.

“Acceleration of M&A is a natural progression as we enter the next commodity supercycle,” said Michael Underhill, chief investment officer at Capital Innovations LLC, which owns Nutrien shares. “I would not bet against him.”

Nutrien shares were down 1.3% on Tuesday, after falling 3.5% on Monday. They have risen about 35% year over year, riding soaring corn prices, but gained only 2% since they began trading in 2018.

Some investors had grown uncertain about Nutrien’s growth strategy under Magro, said Mike Archibald, vice-president and portfolio manager at AGF Investments, which owns C$136 million ($109 million) worth of the company’s stock.

Archibald said now the strategy looks likely to shift to deals.

“The incoming CEO does have a history as a deal-maker so, to the extent he lives up to what he’s done in the past, we should expect sometime in the next 12 months that we’ll get something happening on the M&A front,” Archibald said.

POTENTIAL DEALS

Nutrien could try to acquire U.S. nitrogen fertilizer rival CF Industries, which has a $10-billion market capitalization, or accelerate the company’s roll-up of smaller farm retail stores, Archibald said. A CF spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Conversely, Schmidt could sell off the retail business to focus on fertilizer production, Archibald said.

Nutrien declined an interview request for Schmidt. A company spokeswoman said Schmidt’s plans include following the company’s climate change initiatives, which Magro unveiled this month.

Schmidt may also eye selling Nutrien’s phosphate fertilizer business, even though it recently got a boost from U.S. duties against Russian and Moroccan imports, said Brian Madden, senior vice-president at Goodreid Investment Counsel, a Nutrien shareholder.

The CEO change is positive, as Schmidt has an exceptional record of creating shareholder value, said Scotiabank analyst Ben Isaacson. He added that Nutrien could look to consolidate the nitrogen industry.

Schmidt would find it difficult to sell Nutrien itself, Madden said. There is no obvious domestic acquirer and the Canadian government rejected a foreign bid for Potash Corp in 2010.

“Schmidt has got cred in the ag world,” Madden said. But he added that abruptly changing chief executives is not how successions should occur at large companies.

 

 

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg and Maiya Keidan in Toronto; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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Colonial Pipeline hackers stole data on Thursday

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The hackers who caused Colonial Pipeline to shut down on Friday began their cyberattack against the top U.S. fuel pipeline operator a day earlier and stole a large amount of data, Bloomberg News reported citing people familiar with the matter.

The attackers are part of a cybercrime group called DarkSide and took nearly 100 gigabytes of data out of Colonial’s network in just two hours on Thursday, Bloomberg reported late Saturday, citing two people involved in the company’s investigation.

Colonial did not immediately reply to an email from Reuters seeking comment outside usual U.S. business hours.

Colonial Pipeline shut its entire network, the source of nearly half of the U.S. East Coast’s fuel supply, after a cyber attack that involved ransomware.

 

(Reporting by Aakriti Bhalla in Bengaluru; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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TC Energy posts C$1 billion quarterly loss on Keystone XL suspension

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By Nia Williams and Shariq Khan

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) -TC Energy Corp swung to a loss in the first quarter, hit by C$2.2 billion ($1.81 billion) impairment charges related to the suspension of its Keystone XL project, the Canadian pipeline operator said on Friday.

The KXL pipeline was planned to carry 830,000 barrels per day of heavy crude across the border from Alberta to Nebraska, but U.S. President Joe Biden revoked a key permit for the project on his first day in office.

TC Energy said the impairment charge was related to halting work on KXL and a reassessment of related projects like the Heartland Pipeline.

“We were very disappointed with the decision in January to revoke the presidential permit,” Chief Executive Francois Poirier said on an earnings call, adding the company was “opportunity-rich” in other parts of its business.

Calgary-based TC Energy owns the largest network of natural gas pipelines in North America as well as the existing Keystone oil pipeline and power and storage assets.

The company posted a C$2.51 billion loss from its oil pipelines, of which Keystone is the biggest contributor, compared with a C$411 million profit in the same period last year.

It reported net loss attributable to shareholders of C$1.1 billion, or C$1.11 per share, in the three months ended March 31 compared with a profit of C$1.1 billion a year earlier.

Excluding items, the company earned C$1.16 per share, slightly better than analysts’ average estimate of C$1.10, according to Refinitiv IBES data.

TC Energy shares closed up 0.2% on the Toronto Stock Exchange at C$61.94.

($1 = 1.2176 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Shariq Khan in Bengaluru and Nia Williams in Calgary; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Marguerita Choy)

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Lion Electric says it will build new plant in Illinois, create 750 jobs

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By Tina Bellon

(Reuters) – Canadian electric vehicle company Lion Electric on Friday said it had selected Illinois as the location for its new U.S. manufacturing plant, promising to invest at least $70 million and create about 750 jobs over the next three years.

Lion, known for its electric yellow school buses, said it will build the 900,000 square foot facility in Joliet near Chicago to produce 20,000 electric buses and medium and heavy-duty trucks per year.

The company said it expected the facility to come online in the second half of 2022. Lion Chief Executive Marc Bedard said in an interview that while the Illinois factory would focus on vehicle manufacturing initially, the company might later add battery production. Lion is building a battery production facility in Canada.

Bedard said Lion is expanding in the United States when there is growing demand among school districts and companies to switch to electric transportation. Nearly 400 of the company’s electric school buses are on the road and Amazon.com Inc has said it will buy up to 2,500 trucks from Lion by 2025.

Lion’s expansion also coincides with a favorable regulatory environment under U.S. President Joe Biden, who has pushed for providing generous subsidies to the EV industry.

“We’re looking for regulatory tailwinds that will be favorable to electric,” Bedard said of his decision to build the factory in Illinois. State-funded tax credits for the plant were being negotiated, Lion said.

Lion on Friday also is expected to start trading publicly on the New York and Toronto stock exchanges following a merger with special purpose acquisition company Northern Genesis Acquisition Corp in November.

The deal was valued at $1.9 billion and Lion received nearly $500 million in net cash proceeds, the majority of which it said it plans to invest in battery technology and the new U.S. plant.

 

(This story corrects to show that investment and job creation is over a three year, not two year period in first paragraph)

 

(Reporting by Tina Bellon in Austin, Texas; editing by Grant McCool)

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