UPDATE 1-Murray Goulburn ups ante in takeover fight for Warrnambool

Wed Nov 27, 2013 2:15am EST
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* Murray Goulburn seeks time for regulators to approve bid

* Bega, Murray Goulburn say revised Saputo bid denies access to franking credits (Adds details on Murray Goulburn's competition requirements, context)

By Jackie Range

SYDNEY, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Murray Goulburn Co-operative Co Ltd appealed to takeover regulators on Wednesday to block a revised bid from Saputo Inc for Australia's oldest dairy maker, as it seeks time for its own offer to win approval from a competition watchdog.

The move marks an escalation of hostilities in the three-way takeover battle between Saputo, Canada's largest dairy maker, Murray Goulburn and Bega Cheese Ltd to buy Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory Co.

The Saputo and Bega offers close in mid-December, so Murray Goulburn is fighting against the clock to persuade regulators that the benefits of its bid to create an Australian dairy champion outweigh competition concerns. At stake is control of a key exporter of high-tech dairy products in demand in Asia.

"What Murray Goulburn are saying is ... the export potential for aggregated Australian dairy co-ops supersedes whatever negative competition effect there may be in the domestic market," said John Kettle, a partner with law firm McCullough Robertson and an expert on competition law.

Murray Goulburn asked the Australian Takeovers Panel to force Saputo to drop its revised Warrnambool offer, and that Saputo be prevented from processing acceptances for its A$505 million ($463 million) offer until the issue is settled.

The panel said it had not decided whether to conduct an inquiry and made no comment on the merits of the application.   Continued...