September 5, 2019 / 9:30 PM / 17 days ago

Bunge lays off grain traders in Geneva as company seeks to minimize risk: sources

PARIS/LONDON/HAMBURG (Reuters) - U.S. agribusiness firm Bunge Ltd (BG.N) laid off up to 10 grain traders in Geneva in recent days as it pursues a global restructuring to cut costs and reduce market exposure, five industry sources said.

The cuts to trading staff come as Bunge is streamlining its operations in tough agricultural markets and seeks to avoid a repeat of money-losing bets made early in the year-old U.S.-China trade war.

The exact number of jobs cut was unclear as the matter was confidential and the reorganization ongoing, the sources said. A sixth source said Bunge would unveil further details of its new organization on Sept. 16.

Bunge CEO Gregory Heckman, who took over in January, told Reuters in an interview last month that improving risk management at the 200-year-old company is a key focus as he oversees a portfolio review expected to last through the middle of 2020.

“It’s mostly targeting risk-takers,” one source said of the staff cuts in Geneva. “It’s about changing the organization towards one that breaks even and is more consistent, rather than making big bets.”

The group’s Middle East grain desk was among sectors of the Geneva office targeted for staff cuts, other sources said.

The firm has already outlined a new global organization that will reduce the role of regional structures and last month said it would move its headquarters in the United States.

Bunge spokesman Frank Mantero declined to comment on staff cuts, saying “discussions with employees are ongoing”.

The company is “finalizing a new organizational set-up,” adding to operating changes announced this year, Mantero said.

Like other multinational grain merchants, Bunge uses Geneva as an important hub to cover key markets in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Bunge has already scaled back its presence in the Swiss city after it sold its sugar trading business last year. It also shifted some support functions to Barcelona, sources said.

The latest cuts in Geneva also reflect streamlining linked to the planned headquarters move from White Plains, New York, to St. Louis, some of the sources said.

“This is a direct consequence of the decision to move the headquarters to St Louis,” one said. “It’s unclear now what happens to the Geneva office.”

Additional reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by Veronica Brown, Caroline Stauffer and Dan Grebler

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