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Bunge names acting CEO Gregory Heckman as new chief executive

FILE PHOTO: Corn is dumped into a grain cart from a combine during a harvest near Dixon, Nebraska, U.S., October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

By Karl Plume

(Reuters) - Bunge Ltd on Thursday named Gregory Heckman as its new chief executive officer, three months after he stepped in as acting CEO at the embattled global grains merchant stung by slumping grain prices and a bruising U.S.-China trade war.

Heckman, a founding partner of private investment firm Flatwater Partners and the former chief executive of grains trader Gavilon Group, was appointed acting CEO in January after long-serving CEO Soren Schroder was removed.

The leadership change follows a turbulent period for the two-century-old company as profits in its core grain trading, handling and processing business thinned due to a global supply glut and a U.S.-China trade war that redrew global commodity flows.

"After a thorough, global search process, the board clearly recognized that Greg has the unique combination of expertise, vision and leadership to successfully lead Bunge," Kathleen Hyle, Bunge's non-executive board chair, said in a statement.

Heckman joined the Bunge board late last year as part of a deal to ease activist investor pressure on the company following a string of weak results that made Bunge vulnerable to takeover attempts by rival Archer Daniels Midland Co and global commodities trader Glencore Plc.

The appointment of Heckman, who headed Gavilon in 2012 when it was sold to Japanese trading house Marubeni, is likely to stoke market expectations for large merger and acquisition deals involving Bunge and its rivals, including an outright sale of the company, said Morningstar analyst Seth Goldstein.

Bunge has been undergoing a strategic review of its businesses and has not ruled out a sale of the company.

"It leaves the option on the table, whereas Bunge management previously had been resistant to being acquired or even wanting to discuss that with potential acquirers," Goldstein said.

Bunge is one of the "ABCD" quartet of global grain merchants, which include ADM, Cargill Inc and Louis Dreyfus Co. As profits in grain trading have thinned, the companies have been cutting costs and expanding into higher-margin businesses such as food ingredients and specialty oils.

Rival ADM, which is due to report quarterly results on Friday, said this month that it will seek voluntary early retirements by some employees and may eliminate jobs as part of a restructuring of specific areas.

Bunge is scheduled to report first-quarter results on May 8.

Shares of White Plains, New York-based Bunge closed down 4.9 percent on Thursday at $48.60, ahead of the CEO announcement.


(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago and Shanti S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Alistair Bell and Tom Brown)