UPDATE 1-Brookfield says buying 19.2 pct stake in Australia's Asciano

Thu Nov 5, 2015 5:56pm EST
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(Recasts; adds Brookfield comments, Asciano comments)

SYDNEY Nov 5 (Reuters) - Canada's Brookfield Asset Management Inc said it bought a 19.2 percent stake of Asciano Ltd, matching a rival suitor's stake for the Australian ports and rail giant and upping the bid competition for the $6.5 billion target.

In a statement on Friday, Brookfield also said it plans to defer a previous buyout agreement with Asciano and instead launch a formal takeover offer, a move that would lower the necessary shareholder approval and curb a rival bidder's ability to block it.

Brookfield took the unusual measure a week after Asciano's domestic rival Qube Holdings Ltd and partners bought a one-fifth stake in the target, saying they wanted to split up Asciano's assets between them and that they would vote against the Brookfield proposal.

Since the existing Brookfield proposal was instigated by the target company, it needed 75-percent shareholder approval, so Qube almost had enough shares to block it. But under a formal takeover offer, as proposed by Brookfield on Friday, it needs just 50.1 percent shareholder approval.

"Brookfield ... intends to keep its existing scheme of arrangement in place for the time being, however, it has requested a deferral of the scheme meeting," the Canadian firm said in the statement, referring to a Nov. 10 shareholder meeting that would require 75 percent.

The deal, which would be Australia's biggest inbound takeover in four years and the country's biggest takeover by a Canadian firm on record, has faced a regulatory snarl with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission raising concerns about antitrust problems since Brookfield already owns the railways Asciano's trains run on.

In a statement, Asciano said it continues to support the Brookfield proposal and that it will apply to the court to defer the shareholder vote.

Asciano shares closed up 0.5 percent at A$8.28 on Thursday, having struggled to trade at Brookfield's A$9.20 offer price because of concerns the deal would fail to satisfy regulators. (Reporting by Byron Kaye and Colin Packham; editing by G Crosse)