SABMiller, Asahi eye Foster’s beer unit; no bids yet

SABMiller, Asahi eye Foster’s beer unit; no bids yet

Sydney: Beverage giants SABMiller and Asahi Breweries are looking at Foster’s Group’s beer operations, valued at more than $10 billion, but have not yet made any formal offers, sources said.

Long-running interest in the Australian brewer’s beer business resurfaced on Monday after Britain’s Sunday Times reported that SABMiller was considering buying the unit.

Fund managers are divided over whether a suitor would emerge before Australia’s largest brewer formally splits off the wine division in 2011 or wait, with complex debt and structural issues to be resolved.

Foster’s has one of the highest-margin brewing operations in the world with brands including Foster’s Lager, Victoria Bitter and Pure Blonde.

Analysts say Foster’s beer business is an attractive target for drinks firms such as Molson Coors, which owns a 5% stake in Foster’s, and Coca-Cola Amatil.

“SAB and Asahi are the two names that keep popping up and given the demerger process in train you would expect people who ever thought they might look at Foster’s to get teams together to do so," said one source familiar with the situation. He declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Another source said Asahi, Japan’s No.2 brewer after Kirin Holdings, remained interested. Nomura and Rothschild are advising Asahi on this. Asahi declined comment.

Foster’s said in May it would split the beer unit from its ailing wine business, putting Foster’s beer operations at the centre of takeover talk in the drinks sector.

A takeover of Foster’s beer would be the second largest takeover deal in the global food and drinks sector this year, according to Thomson Reuters data.

The takeover talk pushed Foster’s shares up more than 6% to their highest level in more than two years, with volume 3.0 times the daily average over the past 30 days.

By 10:30am, the shares were up 6.2% at A$6.18.

A number of potential suitors including SABMiller and Asahi have been looking at the business since Foster’s announcement to to split its beer and wine operations, two sources said, adding neither had formally decided whether to make an offer.

Fund managers are divided over whether a suitor would emerge before Foster’s formally splits off the wine vision in 2011 or wait, with complex debt and structural issues to be resolved.

Responding to media reports, Foster’s said on Monday it was not aware of any unannounced information driving the stock.

Analysts value Foster’s at around 13 times forward earnings. However, most of the company’s value is locked into the beer operations following a string of writedowns on its underperforming wine business.

“It (a takeover) is probably not too likely in the near future but once separation happens there will be some definite interest," said Daniel Nelson, investment analyst at Constellation Capital, which owns Foster’s shares said.

“From a margin perspective it is a very profitable market and the cash could be used to fund some of the developing market aspirations."

Sydney-based Gresham Advisory Partners is advising Foster’s.

The Australian newspaper reported on Monday that SABMiller had hired JPMorgan and Royal Bank of Scotland as advisers for a potential bid but no decision had been made.

SABMiller owns the brewing rights to Foster’s in the United States.

Asahi President Naoki Izumiya said this month he expects to have $9.2 billion for acquisitions over the next five years, with eyes on Asia and Oceania.

Japanese brewers have been scrambling to diversify, mainly by by overseas acquisitions, to cut their reliance on the local beer market, which has lost 15 percent in volume in the past decade due to a sputtering economy and shrinking population.

SABMiller, the maker of Peroni and Miller Lite, generates about 85 percent of its profits from the emerging markets of Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Coca-Cola Amatil which has an Australian joint venture with SABMiller, was also a likely predator, analysts say.