Bickel Flowers likely to buy Agrexco for NIS 40m

Gideon Bickel, once the Agrexco rebel, exporting flowers independently, is closing the circle by taking it over.

Agrexco liquidator Adv. Shlomo Nass will likely recommend to the Tel Aviv District Court to accept the offer by flower grower Gideon Bickel for the business and assets of the agricultural produce exporter as a going concern. Bickel Flowers' bid is similar to the bid by rival Ofer Gilboa, the controlling shareholder of Cargo Air Lines Ltd. (CAL), but Agrexco's employees support Bickel and apparently tipped the scales in his favor.

Bickel Group Export and Trade Ltd. and Orian SM Ltd. (TASE:ORIN) and Japanese flowers importer Classic Japan Ltd. are offering NIS 16.1 million in cash plus future payments derived from future sales proceeds by Agrexco up to a total offer of NIS 40 million.

Ofer Gilboa has also offered NIS 40 million for Agrexco - NIS 12 million in cash and the rest from future sales.

In January 2010, Kesselman & Kesselman pwc Israel valued Agrexco at NIS 600 million (€109 million) as of June 30, 2009, for the purpose of privatizing the company.

Bickel Flowers Ltd. was founded in 1976. It owns a large farm and packing plant at Moshav Beit Hanan, and has an office in the Netherlands. The company closed its Belgian flower market branch in 2004 to concentrate on real estate. Gideon Bickel, once the Agrexco rebel, exporting flowers and other produce independently of it, is closing the circle by trying to take it over.

The statement to court says, "Deciding weight should be given to the identity of the bidder, his ability to revive the company from the circumstances to which it has fallen to become a successful company in the future, as well as to the structure of the offer. For this purpose, the temporary liquidators have consulted with representatives of the banks and the employees, and after obtaining their positions and thorough reviewing the figures, the temporary liquidators believe that it is proper to declare Bickel's offer as the winning offer."

Agrexco's workers committee announced that it prefers Bickel's offer. Workers committee chairman Shaul Tzivoni told "Globes", "The two bids are similar, around NIS 40 million altogether. We think that the new employer will commit to negotiations on a collective agreement on the basis of agreed principles and will protect the workers rights."

Bickel told "Globes", "Agrexco was a monopoly, and I wanted to export Gypsophila (Baby Breath) flowers, on which I wrote my Masters thesis at university, but the state would not let me. They told me, 'You can only export through Agrexco'. I petitioned the High Court of Justice against the minister of agriculture, Agrexco, and the Flowers Marketing Board, and I won on freedom of occupation grounds. Since then, I've expanded to export fresh produce, herbs, fruits, and vegetables."

Bickel has also made a number of large real estate deals, including the purchase of the Hadarim Mall in Netanya.

There is no good end for Agrexco's employees. The company has 332 employees in Israel and 180 in other countries, and the new owners estimate that only 50-70 will remain.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on September 21, 2011

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2011

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