Monday, 10 September 2012

ThaiBev in talks with partner to take over Singapore F&N

(Reuters) - Thai Beverage PCL (TBEV.SI) said it was in talks with a partner to team up on a bid for Fraser and Neave Ltd (F&N) (FRNM.SI), moving the Thai group a step closer in its effort to snap up the remaining pieces of the Singapore conglomerate.

For two months, ThaiBev and Heineken battled for control of Asia Pacific Breweries Ltd (APB) (APBB.SI), one of the region's largest beer makers. But with F&N agreeing to sell its APB stake to Heineken after the Dutch giant sweetened its offer, ThaiBev is now turning its focus on F&N, a drinks distributor and holder of one of Asia's biggest real estate portfolios.
"A party acting in concert with the company is exploring the possibility of making an offer for F&N," ThaiBev, controlled by billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, said in a filing on the Singapore Exchange early on Tuesday. It did not identify the partner.
F&N has scheduled a shareholder vote on September 28 to approve the sale of a 40 percent stake in APB to Heineken. ThaiBev is F&N's biggest shareholder with a 29 percent stake.
Heineken, which also has a stake in APB, raised its offer last month to buy out APB shares held by F&N and minority shareholders to $6.3 billion. The move was seen as an attempt to fend off Charoen in a battle for control of a leading brand in the fast-growing Southeast Asian beer market.
A source familiar with the matter told Reuters that Charoen is now taking steps to ensure that his group is in a strong position to influence the outcome of the potential break-up of F&N after extracting a higher offer from Heineken.
The Thai group, facing a major cash windfall from the APB sale, is unlikely to take further steps in squeezing Heineken's offer, sources familiar with the matter said, declining to be identified because details of the plan were confidential.
ThaiBev has spent S$3.6 billion ($2.92 billion) to build its stake in F&N to 29 percent. The purchase includes a block of F&N shares the Thai brewer acquired from Singapore's Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp (OCBC.SI) group at S$8.88 each.
F&N shares were trading at S$8.54 in early trading on Tuesday, down 0.12 percent.
ThaiBev's "holding announcement" did not state whether the partner was a member of Charoen's TCC Group or an unrelated firm. Analysts have speculated previously he may try to bring in a partner to buy part of F&N's large property holdings.
F&N's property portfolio, worth over S$8 billion, as well as its beverage business could be of interest to Charoen, analysts said previously. But Thailand's third-richest man would still need a partner to bid for those assets.
"We believe ThaiBev would be stretched financially to make a sole bid for F&N, hence the potential joint offer with another party," said Goh Han Peng, an analyst at DMG & Partners Securities.
Blackstone Group (BX.N) and other global property companies have also had a look at F&N's property business, sources previously told Reuters.
F&N's beverage business has attracted suitors including Coca-Cola Co (KO.N) and Japan's Kirin Holdings Ltd (2503.T), which already owns 14.9 percent of F&N.
Besides market-leading positions in soft drinks and dairies in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, F&N also has distribution reach in emerging markets such as Vietnam and Myanmar, according to a DMG report.
ThaiBev said it has been in talks with banks to refinance a loan taken out to fund its initial stake purchase in F&N. Under Singapore law, it would be required to bid for all of F&N if its holding rose to 30 percent.
"The company is not seeking funding for a potential general offer for F&N," it said.
On Monday, Basis Point reported, citing banking sources, ThaiBev was seeking proposals for a loan of around S$9 billion and had contacted several lenders, including Singapore, Malaysian and Japanese banks.
Analysts have cautioned against discounting Charoen, who is known for being a dogged fighter. The billionaire is estimated by Forbes to be worth $6.2 billion.
Charoen has consistently shown in the past a "willingness to take risks and face down competitors," said Mykolas Rambus, CEO of Singapore-based consultancy Wealth-X.

1 comment:

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