Kirin holds on as Murray Goulburn exits Warrnambool bid

Thu Jan 23, 2014 3:09am EST
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By Maggie Lu Yueyang

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's Murray Goulburn Co-operative Co Ltd agreed to sell its 17.7 percent stake in Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory Co Holdings Ltd WCB.AX to rival bidder Saputo Inc (SAP.TO: Quote), finally bowing out of the hotly contested bidding battle.

Murray Goulburn's capitulation cleared another hurdle for Saputo to take over Warrnambool, which is seen as a platform for the Canadian dairy maker to tap growing demand in Asia for both traditional dairy products and high-tech milk extracts.

Eyes are now on Japanese beverage giant Kirin Holdings Co Ltd (2503.T: Quote), which holds a 10 percent stake in Warrnambool through its local unit Lion and has an important cheese making and packaging partnership.

A Lion spokesman said the company has no plan to accept Saputo's offer, posing as the last hurdle for the Canadian company to take full control of Warrnambool.

"Lion has no current intention to accept Saputo's takeover offer in relation to WCB," a Lion spokesman told Reuters. "Lion looks forward to continuing to strengthen its relationship with WCB," he said.

Saputo had already won majority control in Warrnambool after former rival bidder Bega Cheese Ltd BGA.AX gave it a leg-up last week by selling its 18.8 percent stake to the Canadian company.

Murray Goulburn's sale will lift Saputo's stake in Australia's oldest dairy firm to 75.4 percent, triggering a 20 cent rise in its offer price to A$9.40 per share or A$526 million ($465.96 million).

If Saputo reaches 90 percent acceptances, the offer will rise again to A$9.60 per share, or A$537 million. The Saputo offer has been extended to February 4 after reaching the control threshold.   Continued...

The Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory is seen in the town of Warrnambool, located around 265 kilometers (165 miles) southwest of Melbourne November 17, 2013. REUTERS/Sonali Paul