LONDON Louis Dreyfus Company [AKIRAU.UL] expects to start conversations on potentially selling a stake in its metals business in the second half of 2017, Chief Executive Gonzalo Ramírez Martiarena said on Wednesday.
A senior Louis Dreyfus source said earlier this year the company was ring-fencing its fertilisers, metals, juice and dairy units and was seeking partners to help them expand.
"Our metals division can eventually be ready for a conversation with potential partners in the third or fourth quarter next year," Ramírez said at the Reuters Commodities Summit on Wednesday.
"We would like to retain majority but it depends on who comes on the other side of the table," Ramírez said.
There have already been several expressions of interest, including some from Asia, he added.
"We definitely have a platform that is extremely attractive today to someone willing to invest in fixed assets in the base metals space because we don't have assets, we have some specific assets in warehousing and blending," he said.
"So anyone willing to go harder on assets investment has the advantage of a very solid team and flows that already exist. We would continue to expand into warehousing," he added.
Like many of its peers, Louis Dreyfus, one of four traders that dominate global agricultural trading along with Archer Daniels Midland Co (ADM.N), Bunge Ltd (BG.N) and Cargill Inc [CARG.UL], has been hit by falling prices and weak demand.
Ring-fencing some of its businesses would allow Louis Dreyfus to focus on higher-margin activities.
Technically, the metals business, which trades more than two million tonnes of metals and metals products a year, is a separate legal entity already but it is still fully owned by LDC, Ramírez said.
LDC started trading non-ferrous metals including copper, zinc and lead concentrates in 2005 and its metals unit has offices in Shanghai, Singapore, Connecticut, Geneva, Lima, Santiago, Puebla and Johannesburg. It also has warehousing and logistical operations in Peru, Mexico, Chile, Africa and Taiwan.
(Reporting by Clara Denina; Editing by Veronica Brown and Susan Thomas; Follow Reuters Summits on Twitter @Reuters_Summits)