Comment - Foster's bid speculation may hide Heineken's real goals
The leaked story that Heineken is in acquisition talks with Foster's was quickly denied by the Oz brewing giant. But as David Robertson reports there may be more than meets the eye to Heineken's intentions now it is armed with a $10bn war chest.
Leaked takeover stories usually reveal the truth by what is not reported rather than what is and the rumours of Heineken's interest in Foster's is a classic example.
The story broke in Australia yesterday with just one newspaper, the Murdoch-owned Australian, running the story right across the top of its front page - usually a good indication that the story is more than just a trumped up rumour.
Foster's CEO Ted Kunkel
Foster's rushed out denials but Heineken were slower to respond finally producing a carefully worded statement that denied talks and saved a few journalistic reputations.
The Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review happily buried the story claiming it was largely hogwash.
But where did the story come from? It is probably reasonable to eliminate Foster's - CEO Ted Kunkel's email to staff yesterday seethed with irritation spelling out how successful companies had to endure "wild speculation" from time to time and he urged workers to get on with their jobs.
One possibility is that the story came from Sydney brokers working for, or with, Heineken. And there are two reasons why they might have leaked it.
The first is to reveal that Heineken has a $10bn line of credit and is about to take to the field and the second is to flush out potential targets. With a lot of money to spend Heineken may find itself approached by all manner of CEO's looking to make a profitable union.
Is Foster's a decoy for a European or US acquisition?
A leak in Australia is an obvious overture by Heineken to Foster's - although possibly not as polite as Kunkel would like - but it does now force the two into talks - shareholders will demand that management at least hear what the Dutch have to say.
But conspiracy theorists may well look further. Is Foster's a decoy for a European or US acquisition? With everyone thinking Foster's is the target Heineken can assemble its financing without alerting its real target.
This scenario may sound far fetched but Wall Street and the City regularly operate in such obscure ways and with such massive sums being thrown around it is a sure bet that there is more to the situation than either Heineken or Foster's are letting on.
The effect of the rumour has already had a large impact in Australia. Fosters' share price rose 4% to $A5.24 and Southcorp and BRL Hardy also saw large increases. The beleaguered Aussie dollar was also a winner with a 1% rise against the US dollar to its highest level since March.
The deal also prompted political comment with opposition leader Kim Beazley suggesting that the low value of the Australian dollar was killing domestic companies: "Since the dollar has gone south over the course of the life of this government, clearly there are vulnerabilities now in Australian companies to takeovers."
Beazley, who is way ahead in opinion polls for the general election in October, did not go as far as to say he would come out against a Fosters takeover but analysts think it is possible.
Whatever the reason for the Foster's intrigue it highlights that the line between victim and predator in the global drinks industry is becoming more entrenched. Whether Heineken, Diageo or some other complicated combination of companies bids for Foster's the Australian icon is clearly in somebody's sights.
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