UPDATE 1-Battle for Australian dairy firm drags on as local bidder refuses to bow to Canadians

Mon Jan 6, 2014 11:16pm EST
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* Saputo offer deadline on Friday; analysts expect extension

* Hearing into Murray Goulburn bid scheduled for Feb. 10

* Regulator expected to rule on Murray Goulburn bid by Feb-end

By Jane Wardell

SYDNEY, Jan 7 (Reuters) - A months-long fight for Australia's oldest dairy firm battles on into the new year as local bidder Murray Goulburn Co-operative Co Ltd refuses to concede to rival suitor Canada's Saputo Inc, which has already secured regulatory approval.

Murray Goulburn said on Tuesday it may increase its stake in Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory Holdings Co via on-market purchases.

The company also said it expects a regulatory decision on its A$530 million ($474.96 million) offer by the end of February.

That is well short of the three to six months that analysts had anticipated the Australian Competition Tribunal might take to reach a decision, potentially breathing new life into the Murray Goulburn offer.

At stake is a platform for rapidly growing sales of both traditional dairy products and high-tech milk extracts into China.   Continued...