Leong Hup shares remain unchanged amid price-fixing allegations

KUALA LUMPUR: Investors holding shares in Leong Hup International Bhd held their ground on Monday despite allegations that the group's feedmill business had participated in anti-competitive price-fixing practices with industry peers in raising the price of poultry feed between early 2020 and mid-2022.

As at 10.15am on Monday, shares in the poultry group were unchanged at 52 sen a share on the back of 364,400 shares traded, suggesting that investors could be adopting a wait-and-see approach over the ongoing developments.

It was announced on Bursa Malaysia last Friday that the unit in questions, Leong Hup Feedmill Malaysia Bhd, and four other feed millers were provisionally determined to have violated Section 4 of the Competition Act 2010 (Act 712).

Section 4(1) of the Act prohibits businesses from entering into a horizontal or vertical agreement, if it significantly lessens, prevents, or distorts competition in any market for goods or services.

Leong Hup said in the Bursa Malaysia filing that it strongly believes the allegation is without merit and intends to defend it vigorously.

"The company and LFM will review the matter with the external legal counsel and submit written representations within the specified period and make an oral representation before the MyCC," it said.

According to MIDF Research the group contends that the cost hikes of feed millers are mainly due to Malaysian feed mills importing the same raw materials from overseas.

"This is due to oligopoly structure of feedmill, where businesses manufacture homogeneous products at a fixed marginal cost.

"Feed millers compete by establishing pricing such that when one increases, the others follow suit. Hence, the group emphasizes that just because all increase around the same time does not equate to price fixing," said the research house.

It added that in a worse-case scenario, the financial penalty would not exceed 10% of the group's feed mill revenue for the relevant period.

"We expect a worst-case financial penalty of between RM74.4m-RM744.4m premised on a financial penalty of between 1%-10% of LHIB's feed mill revenues from early 2020 to mid-2022.

"Note that LHIB only operates feed mill in Malaysia. The financial penalty could potentially drag LHIB’s FY22 revenue by 0.9 to 9% and net earnings by 63% to 633%," it said.

MIDF maintained "neutral" on Leong Hup with an unchanged target price of 47 sen given the findings are provisional and the proposed direction has not yet been decided.

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