China's COFCO in talks to take full ownership of Noble's agribusiness: sources

LONDON/SINGAPORE (REUTERS) - China's food giant COFCO is in advanced talks to take full ownership of Noble Group's agribusiness, buying the remaining 49 per cent stake for around US$700-US$750 million (S$987 million -S$1.05 billion), two sources said.

The state-run company acquired 51 percent of Singapore-listed Noble's agriculture unit in April 2014 for US$1.5 billion.

Noble declined to comment, while COFCO was not available for immediate comment.

The expected deal follows a commitment in November by Noble Chief Executive Yusuf Alireza to raise US$500 million, seeking to retain its investment grade credit rating and repair investor confidence after a bruising accounting dispute.

Shares in Asia's biggest commodity trader have shed around two-thirds of their value since mid-February when blogger Iceberg Research alleged the company was inflating its assets by billions of dollars by not fairly representing the value of its commodity contracts.

Noble rejected the claims and board-appointed consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers found no wrongdoing in a report published in August.

For COFCO, the deal would reinforce its position among the world's top global agricultural traders, rivalling the "ABCD"quartet of companies - Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus.

The talks may or may not result in a deal, however the two sources said they expected a deal to be announced imminently.

The final value of any deal is also subject to change.