SABMiller prepares new assault on Foster's

City A.M. Reporter
Global brewer SABMiller is set to renew its assault on Australian bid target Foster's later this month with a slightly higher offer likely to succeed after rival bidders fail to appear, bankers and investors told Reuters.

The London-based brewer will wait for Foster's full-year results on 23 August, which will make dismal reading with beer profits set to tumble, before increasing the pressure on Foster's board to accept its current A$11.2bn (£7bn) or slightly increased cash bid.

With Foster's share price falling below SABMiller's bid level over the past few days, the offer has become more attractive and investors are now putting pressure on the Foster's board to talk to SABMiller.

The shares hit a low Tuesday of A$4.51 as hopes of a rival bid faded and global stock markets tumbled. Foster's shares recovered to close at A$4.93 Wednesday, close to SABMiller's bid price of A$4.90.

"SABMiller will be very disciplined, they will wait for Foster's results, pile the pressure on Foster's shareholders and the Foster's board, and then agree to a slightly higher bid," said one investment banker with knowledge of the situation.

When SABMiller launched its bid for Foster's in June, analysts said the London-based brewer might have to pay up to A$5.20-A$5.40 to succeed, but now they believe A$4.90-5.10 will win the day, according to a Reuters poll.

A deal would join together the brewer of Miller Lite, Peroni and Grolsch with the Melbourne-based maker of Victoria Bitter, Pure Blonde and Cascade beer, and would be the biggest deal since InBev paid $52 billion to buy Anheuser-Busch to form AB InBev in the world's biggest cash takeover in 2008.

"SABMiller has shown itself to be disciplined by walking away from Schincariol, and if it were to walk away from Foster's the shares could sink towards A$4," another banker said.

SABMiller pulled out of the bidding for Brazil's second biggest brewer Schincariol as the price rose sharply leaving Japanese group Kirin Holding to seal a deal paying $2.6bn for a 50.45 per cent stake.

Foster's chief executive John Pollaers has been dismissive of SABMiller's approach, describing it as "so far from reality that it was not worth engaging," later adding he was not saying the company would never engage in talks.

Foster's share price is undermining the position of Pollaers, a former navy weapons engineer who has headed the brewer since April 2010, and after its close at A$4.93 SABMiller may not need to raise its bid much to win.

"It definitely lessens the chances - short of another bidder emerging - of SABMiller actually lifting their offer," said Jason Beddow, chief executive of Argo Investments in Sydney, which hold Foster's shares.

"It puts the pressure back on the Foster's board. They have rejected A$4.90. From a short-term perspective the Foster's share price would definitely come under pressure if SAB walked away," he added.