“Profit from the World’s Dawning Agriboom” Money Map Report

This one comes in from the folks at the Oxford Club, as a tease for their Money Map Report newsletter. It’s a bit different in terms of the marketing offer, since technically they’re trying to sell you a special report about agribusiness, and then you get a “free” subscription to Money Map Report if you buy this special report for $79.

Perhaps you’d like to buy that report — $79 seems a bit steep to me, you could buy a lot of excellent investing books for that money and probably learn more, but those books won’t likely have those specific stock ideas that the Oxfordies have for us here.

So let’s see if we can figure out some of the companies they’re talking about — or at least one of them to start the week, perhaps I’ll get to the others shortly. Then you can decide for yourself whether this is something that interests you.

The main company teased is a seed company in China, which they say you can invest in because of a little loophole that allows foreigners to buy these shares. They believe that you can “make 1,166% on this secret loophole” as China spends billions in the coming years to improve their seed stock and become more self sufficient in grain production.

Why a loophole? They make the argument that China is trying to keep the ability to feed themselves under their own control, which means not ceding all agri-biotech and specialized seed production to the Western giants like Syntenta, Dupont, and Monsanto. Makes some sense, I suppose.

The ad tells us that “just weeks ago, China’s State Council quietly approved the “Industrial Catalog for Foreign Investment”. This ruling specifically restricts Americans from owning seed development and production businesses in China… and all of the profits they are about to reap.”

Here’s some more of the teaser, in their own words:

“We’ve unearthed an unusual biotech firm. It’s poised to receive the lion’s share of this $3.2 billion spending spree… yet you can buy shares directly from your normal broker.

“The company itself is based in Beijing… BUT its all-important corn seed division is a wholly owned subsidiary incorporated in the Cayman Islands!

“And get this; every penny of profits from its seed production business goes straight into the coffers of this publicly traded company.

“…It’s the only “backdoor” for American investors to hitch a ride on this $3.2 billion wave of cash.

“…It’s a chance to get in at the ground floor of a company that could realistically pop 1,166%… just as agri-giant Monsanto did in less than five years… “

And there’s more, including what they think is a coming catalyst:

“This company’s R&D pipeline is practically bursting. According to official government documents we’ve unearthed, it will unveil two new proprietary corn seed strains that could revolutionize the entire global corn industry… and add millions to the company’s bottom line.

“Researchers used sophisticated hybridization techniques to create seeds that increase crop yield, have multi-resistant characteristics and that are highly adaptable to China’s climate.

And we expect this news to break in the next few weeks.”

So, we feed all of that into the Gumshoe’s mighty Thinkolator on this Sunday evening, and find that the company in question is …

Agria (GRO)

There weren’t many specific clues about the firm, but this is the only one I’m aware of that has Cayman Island subsidiaries and a big focus on corn seeds. There’s a chance that this is not the company in question, though, since I don’t have any other specific clues to verify.

All the Chinese agribusiness companies that have come public in the US in recent years have gotten such cute ticker symbols, by the way — These guys are GRO, Origin Agritech, which seems to be a more biotech-focused Chinese seed company, is SEED (they’ve been touted by newsletters, too), and Agfeed, an animal feed company, is FEED. Memorable, at least.

So, is it something you want to buy? Well, certainly agribusiness and agricultural biotechnology is going to be huge for China — they do have a lot of people to feed, some farming practices that are still not all that efficient, and a huge urbanization wave that is taking away labor and farmland from farmers … not to mention the agrarian struggle of floods, drought, and polluted water that’s relatively common for farmers everywhere in the developing world. Asia in general has done much better in the last 30 years than have some other areas of the globe, notably Africa, in bringing more advanced agriculture to feed their people, but they’ll certainly have to do more in the years ahead.

Will Agria make huge profits from this? Maybe, they do have corn seeds to sell, and they are developing hybrids that should perform well in Chinese earth, but I have no idea how politics may come into play, or how they will do in competition with the bigger US and European companies if they do indeed end up competing on a level playing field.

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They are cheaper than most similar companies, with a trailing PE of about 7 — mostly because the shares have collapsed over the past month or two (bringing along some nice lawsuits, as usual), down to a recent $5 or so. They do sheep breeding and seedlings to go along with the hybrid corn seed business.

So why did the shares collapse? It was in early April that they went from about $9 to $4, though they had been up to around $12 six months ago, after they debuted on the NYSE during the great enthusiasm for all things agricultural, and most things China. The COO resigned, and there were all kinds of payment problems with their main division in China (which produces their Primalights brand agricultural products). I have no idea how this is going to work out, it appears that everything’s tied up with the accountants now to see if there are genuine issues to worry about, and there are tons of lawsuits filed in the wake of this problem that will also have to be resolved at some point.

So if this strikes your fancy and you want to take a chance on a turnaround in the share price, I’d suggest going back to read those releases from early April, check up on the lawsuits, and read their SEC filings. You might compare them to Origin Agritech or any of the US companies that have related businesses (Monsanto, ADM, etc.) if you want to get an idea of their competitive presence.

So whaddya think? Want to take a chance on Agria? I don’t own shares of any of the companies mentioned (my only direct agribusiness investment is ABB Grain, a grain marketer and barley malter in Australia), and I’m not likely to take a flier on GRO today, but I’ve been wrong before whenever I’ve noted my trepidation about the runup in shares of agricultural companies worldwide.

People gotta eat, and the animals that people prefer to eat when they have a little bit more money gotta eat, too (and those animals eat mostly corn) … and authoritarian governments have learned over the years that the best way to stay in power is to make sure their people aren’t too hungry.

GRO has a bit of hair on it, and it has disappointed a lot of investors since going public — know your risks if you wade in. I’ll try to have a look at some of the other ag companies they teased in this special report if I get a chance.