November 27, 2013 / 12:17 AM / in 5 years

Murray Goulburn asks regulator to step in over Saputo bid for Warrnambool

SYDNEY, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Murray Goulburn Co-operative Co Ltd has asked the Australian Takeovers Panel to force rival suitor Saputo Inc drop its revised offer for Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory Co, the regulator said on Wednesday.

Murray Goulburn has also requested that Saputo be prevented from processing acceptances for its A$505 million ($463 million) offer until the issue is settled.

Warrnambool is the subject of a three-way take over battle, pitting Saputo, Canada’s largest dairy maker, against Murray Goulburn and Bega Cheese Ltd, both major shareholders in Australia’s oldest dairy maker.

The Takeovers Panel said it had not decided whether to conduct an inquiry as requested and made no comment on the merits of the application.

Warrnambool said in a separate statement it disagreed with the basis of Murray Goulburn’s application but declined to comment further.

Saputo declared its A$9 bid, which is backed by the Warrnambool board, unconditional on Monday and said it would hike its offer if it won control. The Canadian dairy maker said on Wednesday it had received acceptances totalling 4.8 percent of Warrnambool.

Murray Goulburn’s A$9 per share bid is hamstrung because it needs regulatory approval from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), meaning it cannot make an unconditional offer.

Bega said on Tuesday it was extending its offer by two weeks to Dec. 12, the day before Saputo’s deadline. Bega already has ACCC approval for its final offer of A$2 cash and 1.5 Bega shares per Warrnambool share currently valued at around A$9 per share.

Murray Goulburn and Bega, which hold around 18 percent each of Warrnambool, argue that the decision under Saputo’s revised offer to drop A$1.31 per share in proposed dividends means that shareholders will not have access to A$0.56 in franking credits.

On that basis, the value of the bid has fallen from A$9.56 to A$9.20 if 50 percent acceptance is achieved, they said.

Murray Goulburn is asking the Takovers Panel to order that Warrnambool reinstate the dividends.

Saputo said it has followed takeover guidelines. Bega could not immediately be reached for comment. ($1 = 1.0914 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Jane Wardell; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

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