Arable Farmland More Precious Than Gold

There is another candidate for “largest Chinese investment in Australia ever.” But this time, it involves an asset that is arguably more strategic than oil and more precious than gold. But before we get to that little drama in the Australian share market (and the five-year opportunity it represents), spare a thought for gold.

In fact, spare a whole weekend for it! You have may have missed the weekend edition of the Markets and Money. If you did, you can read it here. While regular editor Alex Cowie was sunning himself in Queensland, we took the opportunity to tell you about what should easily be Australia’s premier conference on gold.

Yes, we know it’s being held in Canberra from November 2nd to the 5th and that it’s during Melbourne Cup week. If you can’t make it then, that’s fine (hopefully there will be a transcript or a video recording). But it should be a great show.

The headliner of the event is Professor Antal Feteke of the Gold Standard Institute. Bron Sucheki from the Perth Mint will be there as well, along with Barry Dawes from Martin Place Securities and yours truly from the Markets and Money.

Of course we know a whole four days talking about gold as money and gold stocks isn’t for everyone. But then, everyone couldn’t fit anyway! The venue only holds 160 seats and they are already selling. To find out more contact conference organiser Dr. Marcus Matthews, who is coordinating the event on behalf of the Gold Standard Institute. He can be reached at

And if you’re reading today’s letter from somewhere that is not Australia, maybe you should consider coming to visit. Our old friends at Opportunity Travel (with whom we went to China in 2004) have organised a tour of Australia and New Zealand from January 14th to the 29th, including stops in Sydney, Melbourne, and Auckland (where they will visit with mining guru Rick Rule).

There’s much more on the agenda. Some of it is business and some of it is pleasure. If you’re an American, it might be a good way to enjoy the purchasing power of your money while it lasts, before the rest of the world stops taking it seriously. Joining and leading the tour is another old friend, Chris Mayer of Capital and Crisis. Your editor will co-sponsor the Melbourne leg of the journey, and perhaps shout the whole group a round at the Prince of Wales across the street.

If you want a look at the full day-by-day itinerary, e-mail Barb Periello at or (from the States) call her toll-free at (800) 926-6575 x 104 or direct at (561) 243-6276 x 104. Barb says the program is already more than half full, so if you’re interested in learning more, please get in touch today while there are still a few spots available.

Before we leave the subject of gold altogether, we had a chat about it on the phone yesterday with Neil Charnock, editor and entrepreneur behind Neil said his charts were telling him that the bullion price is ready for a move. We asked him if the stocks confirmed that move…or if they led it…or lagged it.”

“A bit of both. It depends on if you’re looking at the majors or the juniors. But overall, the gold sector behaviour is pointing to a very positive run ahead in the coming months. The big caps ran up hard after October last year and have traded on a high plateau ever since. It’s possible they’re just getting slapped about by the funds taking profits as they play the range.”

“Hmm. What about the smaller ones?”

“Well a lot of them were pushed down to crazy valuations late last year. But they’ve been running ever since. Overall, the technicals are telling me that time is running out before the large cap train leaves the station. When you combine this with the smaller cap behaviour you get an obvious sign that gold will break out in the coming weeks and the gold stocks will perform strongly. The last time I saw this type of broad based gold stock action was mid 2005.”

Okay. One last note about gold, albeit indirect. World Bank President Robert Zoellick (an American) shook his countrymen by the shoulders yesterday. “The United States would be mistaken to take for granted the dollar’s place as the world’s predominant reserve currency,” he said. “Looking forward, there will increasingly be other options.”

So back to the beginning. What asset is more strategic than oil and more precious than gold? Why arable farmland of course! That was the conclusion we reached yesterday when putting the finishing touches on a report that details the growing number of Sovereign Wealth Funds and corporations buying up vast tracts of farmland in Africa.

It’s been dubbed the “New Colonialism” by some, which is a politically loaded term. But then, land is the sort of the asset that could easily become politically loaded over the next twenty years. A lot of people want (need) arable farm land. Not everyone has it.

You may be wondering what this has to do with the $2.8 billion bid by China’s Sinochem Corp for agrochemical and fertlisier firm Nufarm. That’s just the question we’ve been mulling over. If it goes through, the deal would be China’s largest acquisition of an Aussie asset to date.

But there are some questions to be answered first. Will the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) block the deal? Is it a good value for Nufarm shareholders? Are there more stocks like Nufarm you should know about?

We can’t see any reason why the FIRB would block the deal. But then, if it thought about it, it might. Nufarm doesn’t own arable land, mind you. And most of its sales are generated outside Australia. But it’s not a stretch to call fertiliser and agrichemicals “strategic assets” either.

Is it a good value for Nufarm shareholders? Sinochem is offering $13 a share. That’s a slight premium to yesterday’s closing share price of $11.96. The bid values Nufarm at about $2.8 billion. It’s closer to $4 billion when you include the nearly $1 billion in debt Sinochem will assume if it takes Nufarm over.

That might seem generous, considering Nufarm’s shares slumped all the way to $8 earlier this year. The company has endured three profit downgrades this financial year. Prices for its main product, glyphosphate, have fallen 50% since the credit crisis. That caused Nufarm to write down $63.5 million in inventory when it announced annual results yesterday.

But in 2007, another Chinese firm offered closer to $17 per share. That was based on a much more optimistic earnings forecast and higher glyphosphate prices. Yesterday’s proposal, we reckon, is more than what you’d pay based on the company’s recent financial performance.

But it’s probably less than what you’d pay if you had a bullish outlook on the business for the next, say, ten years. As for the last question, are there more stocks like Nufarm you should know about, the answer is yes! More on them later this week.

Dan Denning
for Markets and Money

Dan Denning
Dan Denning examines the geopolitical and economic events that can affect your investments domestically. He raises the questions you need to answer, in order to survive financially in these turbulent times.

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13 Comments on "Arable Farmland More Precious Than Gold"

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Not so much to do with arable farmland, though I agree with the article, but hot off the (Business Spectator) press;

RBA sees risk of house price bubble!
 Richards warns construction lagging behind record population growth. 1:18 PM

You real estate speculators really need to take heed, and double down. I can’t possibly see how the RBA could be wrong.

I have not been a believer in the Nufarm business model. It is a marketing and supply chain business built of a huge no. of acquisition of bit players in disparate markets. These companies continue to be mostly run by legacy managements that are trying to retain their strategies (as they need to do to keep in tune with local events & conditions in their respective markets). NUF’s supply chain model has obviously proved to have been inadequate and it didn’t understand the massive punt it was taking on inventory. This is not a global business that is ever going… Read more »
Coffee Addict
Hi Ross. I don’t hold NUF but if I assume your analysis is correct a fresh broom put through the place would creast significant upside potential. A takeover may just be what NUF shareholders and customers need most. I certainly hoe that the Marc Faber clique is wrong concerning upcoming economic prediction but I fear protectionism will prove them correct. Do you have any thoughts on Chinese investment? The best way to influence Chinese political developments over the coming decades is, I believe, to establish an underlying level of trust cooperation and commercial openness. Clearly the Chinese Government needs help… Read more »
Lachlan Scanlan

“But it’s not a stretch to call fertiliser and agrichemicals “strategic assets” either.”
My word its not. You can grow “some” food without modern ag. imputs (fertilisers, insecticides etc)but the best part of a population will starve before we adapt (..going agrarian).

CA, I agree re China. We have been capricious. The worst thing we have had happen is to let ex foreign affairs staffers like Downer and Rudd get into senior positions in cabinet, let alone prime minister. These hacks have no respect for democratic institutions and are concentrated on form rather than substance. Since Gareth “Biggles” Evans we have had foreign affairs increasingly lauding it over trade and the building of mutual respect with China. In the 70’s/80’s we had Fraser and Hawke who knew a thing or too about human capital and substance no matter their other frailties. We… Read more »
CA, on NUF, China hasn’t shown great form in the services & marketing multinational business arena. The trouble with makeovers for anyone reforming NUF is that culture change or any attempt at micro management from head office may mean massive revenue leakage. They need to start with systems and supply chain control but that won’t be easy either when the consumer wants security blanket stocks (big orders) as prices rise and just in time as prices wane. I have been involved in a 75% global stretch services industry business with a similar headcount from a head office perspective and the… Read more »
Coffee Addict

Ross. Fixing a major supply chain is actually something I could do. It would be really interesting. (An NUF consulting fee would, I guess, exceed my current salary by several fold).

Like Rudd, I have travelled to China with an official passport “once apon a time”. Unlike Rudd I was “edged” out for straight talking on a range of issues (Downer’s flunkies never wanted to hear anything negative – be it AWB activity, failed computer systems, arrogance towards the Chinese, poor accountability, failed project models and outcomes etc. etc)


Charles  Norville

I’m good for Aus to believe that the recession is over and we can get into some real nation building, but what’s even better is that we can have other nations do it for us. I’m changing my user name to “tar and feathers”

tar and feathers

And further more I can’t visualise how gold can be so important when the things that you need to purchase for living can be traded with a variety of currency standards………people are wanting to own stuff as a hedge because they see that Govts as shonky, when is the next downturn??

I do a lot of business in China. Perhaps I am even an ‘old hand’ these days (unfortunately) as I have been going there 3 or 4 times a year since 1985. The one thing I know about them is that they are very big on ‘relationships’. You build a relationship and then we can talk business. You cannot do business with them without a ‘relationship’. Once you have a relationship anything is possible. It’s a matter of trust with them. I don’t think Aus has helped itself lately on the ‘relationship’ front. That having been said, it is a… Read more »

Back in July I was at a mixer talking to some lawyer (I live in Illinois, USA) and he was telling me that he represented US investors who were buying (primarily) agricultural land in Australia. My reply was along the lines of: makes sense, when the drought eventually breaks the value increases and in the meantime you’re paying almost 0% for your money.

Biker Pete, Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Biker Pete, Vancouver, B.C., Canada

Drought, Mike? We’re told it hasn’t stopped raining in WA this year. It was only a matter of time before US intelligence found us on a map! :) We really are the best-kept secret south of Nova Scotia!! ;)

tar and feathers

Aus does not have a food security policy, land for agriculture is second to mining.

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