UPDATE 1-Bega in talks with "non-Australian" investors on Warrnambool stake - source

Thu Dec 26, 2013 9:53pm EST
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* China's CIC reportedly backing a Chinese bid for Warrnambool

* Bega open to talks on its Warrnambool stake with interested investors - source

* Bega only to consider offer for its stake if bid above A$9.5/share - source

By Maggie Lu Yueyang

SYDNEY, Dec 27 (Reuters) - Bega Cheese Ltd is in talks with "non-Australian" investors on a possible sale of its stake in Australia's oldest dairy firm, a source familiar with the situation said, adding a new twist to one of the country's most contested takeover battles in years.

Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory Co Holdings Co has been the takeover target for Bega, fellow Australian cheese maker Murray Goulburn Co-operative Co Ltd and Canadian dairy giant Saputo Inc, as investors bet on rising Asian demand for Australian dairy products.

Bega, the biggest shareholder in Warrnambool, kicked off the takeover war in mid-September but decided last week not to extend its final offer after being out-bid by its rivals. It is currently considering what to do with its 18.7 percent stake, the source told Reuters on Friday.

People think Bega will sell either to Murray Goulburn or to Saputo, but it has been approached by other companies including non-Australian firms since closing its bid, said the source, who was not authorised to speak publicly on the matter.

China's sovereign wealth fund CIC is backing a Chinese food company that is considering bidding for Warrnambool, the Business Spectator website reported on Friday, without citing any sources or identifying the company.   Continued...