AMSTERDAM/PARIS, Sept 26 (Reuters) - Family shareholders of commodity trader Louis Dreyfus have agreed to arbitration talks to settle a long-running dispute over a share sale, sources familiar with the matter have told Reuters.
The tussle concerns an attempt by minority shareholders to sell nearly 17 percent of the group’s holding firm to Margarita Louis-Dreyfus, who took over the 166-year-old trading house after her husband died in 2009 and controls around 80 percent of the business.
The matter is significant for the group, which had sales of $50 billion in 2016, as it could force the majority shareholder to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase the shares, after a period of falling profits for Louis Dreyfus and other traders of agricultural goods.
The minority shareholders asked in September 2015 to sell 16.6 percent of Louis Dreyfus Holding B.V., under a long-term agreement giving them an option to sell shares to Russian-born Margarita Louis-Dreyfus. However, the parties have disagreed over the valuation of the stake.
Louis Dreyfus Holding lost a court case in Amsterdam seeking to block the appointment of an arbitration expert at the International Chamber of Commerce.
An appeal by Louis Dreyfus against that decision had been due to be heard last Friday but was cancelled, a court official said.
“Louis Dreyfus has withdrawn the case and an expert has been appointed (for arbitration),” said a source speaking on condition of anonymity because the agreement is confidential. “The case is finished.”
Louis Dreyfus Holding agreed to pay legal fees to cover the court proceedings, the source said.
All shareholders either declined comment or could not be reached for comment. The lawyers representing the parties and the International Chamber of Commerce, which will oversee the arbitration proceedings, declined to comment.
The terms of the put option held by the minority shareholders states that they should receive the highest of either the equity value of the shares based on the holding firm’s latest financial report, or fair market value determined by an expert.
Louis Dreyfus Holding’s most recent annual report indicates total equity of $4.92 billion, which would value a 16.6 percent stake at about $817 million.
The Louis Dreyfus commodities trading group in 2016 reported a second year of lower core profits but said it expected restructuring to help its results this year.
Margarita Louis-Dreyfus married Robert Louis-Dreyfus in 1992 and the couple had three sons. She took over as chairman of the company, founded in eastern France in 1851, after he died of leukaemia. (Additional reporting by Christine Prentice in New York; editing by Jason Neely)