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Good rains and a banking vacuum make Agri a fertile opportunity for non-bank lending

  • The most significant structural change underlying the success of the Merricks Capital investment strategy has been the material change in bank lending practices.
  • The changes over the last 4 years have created a vacuum of readily available capital in many sectors but particularly Agriculture.
  • Ag now represents approximately 20% of the Partners Fund exposure and continues to be one of the sectors offering the best opportunities.
  • A significant improvement in recent rainfall is also likely to underpin the profitability of the agricultural sector at a time when other parts of the economy look more vulnerable.


Banking retreat

A number of factors are behind the change in bank lending practices in the agribusiness sector, including the broader consequences of the Banking Royal Commission, such as a focus on loan interest serviceability rather than asset coverage, as well as APRA-driven changes to banks capital adequacy requirements, especially with regard to impaired loans. These have combined with the perceived reputational risk around enforcement of agricultural loans and the lack of workable solutions to “exit” more challenging loans and, more recently, with the tightening in the broader credit market due to COVID-19.

The reduced bank appetite for agribusiness lending has enabled us to build our Agribusiness investment strategy over the last two years, with a focus on lending against real assets that are used for food production and delivery supply chains. Agricultural supply chains are the pathways that deliver our food and fibre, from farm gate through agricultural infrastructure through to the consumer. The current pandemic has increased the focus on security of food supply and the provision of non-bank credit has been critical to support the expansion and sustained operations of key infrastructure. Banks need certainty of short term cashflow to provide credit whereas we place more emphasis on our loan being protected by significant underlying asset values.

Abundant and cheap water enhances the credit outlook

While the agriculture sector is particularly sensitive to weather-related events, recent rains across the east coast of Australia will lead to the largest gain harvest in many years, reducing risk for the sector. Operators expect higher crop revenues for cereal growers and lower input costs for intensive protein production systems, creating lending opportunities for both cropping and protein production.

The dramatic decline in traded water prices highlighted in the chart below is symptomatic of increased rainfall and dryland production but also highlights a dramatic decline in the cost for many irrigated farms.

Expanding the Merricks agri capability

New hires – Welcome to Merricks Capital

Our agricultural lending strategy has significant upside and scale and we have recently expanded our agricultural investment team, which has a strong background in originating, executing, managing and exiting large scale agricultural investments. In addition to our commodity trading capabilities and our strategic partnerships with some of Australia’s leading farm management businesses such as ACE Farming and Southern Cross Farms we are well positioned to take advantage of the agri-credit opportunity.

Portfolio addition

There are currently 12 agri related loans in the Partners Fund. We expect to add a $45m loan facility in the coming week with due diligence on a large-scale irrigation and dryland farming operation growing cotton, cereals, almonds and wine grapes in the Riverina district of NSW drawing to a close.