UPDATE 2-Third Warrnambool bid highlights hot demand for Australasian dairy

Fri Oct 18, 2013 1:45am EDT
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* Murray Goulburn plans A$7.50/shr bid

* Offer would top agreed Saputo offer, earlier Bega bid

* Warrnambool shares jump to record high

By Jackie Range

SYDNEY, Oct 18 (Reuters) - Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory Company Holdings Ltd's second-largest shareholder launched a A$420 million ($405 million) bid for the Australian dairy company, trumping two previous offers and fanning speculation it could command an even higher price.

The battle for Warrnambool heated up on the same day as China's Shanghai Pengxin made an offer for more dairy farms in New Zealand, underscoring robust demand for Australasian dairy and farm assets as companies ramp up their exposure to Asia's growing appetite for milk, cheese and other food products.

Murray Goulburn Co-operative Co Ltd, which owns about 17 percent of Warrnambool, is offering A$7.50 per share in cash. That is more than a A$7 per share bid from Canada's Saputo Inc which in turn had bested a A$5.78 per share offer from Australia's Bega Cheese Ltd in September.

Warrnambool said in a statement that its directors would meet shortly to consider the Murray Goulburn offer and that it had been unaware of the cooperative's intentions until Friday. Its shares hit a record high of A$7.98 and closed up 6 percent at A$7.89. They have gained 75 percent since the Bega offer.

"The question now is what Saputo does from here," said Mark Topy, senior industrials analyst at Canaccord Genuity. "Bega is an outside chance to bid higher but Saputo, they're a big global company, they've got the pockets to bid higher."   Continued...