Asciano chases mining boom, ditches agriculture

Asciano Group, the infrastructure, port and rail operator arm of Toll Holdings up until its recent forced separation, has outlined plans to offload its rural businesses and expand into the burgeoning coal transport market.

Asciano also ended speculation about a possible $20 billion takeover bid for logistics firm Brambles, saying that it "no longer sees its 4.09 percent stake as a long-term investment".

Chief executive Mark Rowsthorn said it would focus on coal transport as the decade-long drought had made its rural businesses unprofitable.

"Due to their cyclical nature they are not businesses we can stay in for the long term. This current situation cannot be tolerated."

Asciano plans to reduce its grain operations and sell or close its rural container business at a cost of $50 million. Rowsthorn said the restructure will reduce exposure to volatile cyclical sectors and will produce annual benefits of $40 million.

Asciano said the restructured business would see fiscal 2008 earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of $695-705 million.

The company also said it was actively looking for port and rail acquisitions in Europe, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and India, adding it was shortlisted among four bidders for some Saudi port facilities.

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