UPDATE 1-Smithfield says COFCO to take 5 pct stake

Tue Jul 1, 2008 6:55am BST

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(Adds COFCO comments, background)

NEW YORK, June 30 (Reuters) - U.S. pork producer Smithfield Foods Inc SFD.N said on Monday that COFCO Limited, China's largest agricultural trading and processing company, will buy a near-5-percent stake in the company.

Smithfield said COFCO will purchase 7 million shares, or 4.95 percent, of Smithfield's common stock.

The purchase price will be equal to the closing price of its common stock on the day its offering of $350 million convertible senior notes due 2013 is priced, said the company.

A spokeswoman with COFCO Ltd in Beijing said the investment, the company's first in a U.S firm, will benefit COFCO's expansion in the pork industry in China.

"So far we have no intention to raise the stake," she said.

"We hope we will learn from Smithfield its technology and management advantages in the production chain from livestock breeding to quarantine to consumer table," said the spokeswoman, adding the move was not aiming at increasing pork imports.

Consumption in China, the world's largest pork producer and consumer, has been growing more than 10 percent annually in recent years.

China's pork prices hit a record high level after outbreaks of blue ear disease in 2006 had helped reduce the pig population and drive the country's inflation to a decade-high level.

Domestic pork prices were likely to remain high for the rest of the year after the earthquake in the country's largest pork producing province of Sichuan in May killed more than 3 million pigs, according to estimates from industry officials. (Reporting by Nicole Maestri in New York and Niu Shuping in Beijing; Editing by Keiron Henderson)

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