Foster's Group Ltd.'s share buyback program has begun in earnest. The group announced today that it has completed the first stage of its planned buyback with a view to buying more of its shares in 2004.

Foster's said that it has bought back 8.2% of its stock on issue totalling 167.1m shares. Each share was valued at A$4.00 after a tender process, costing the company A$668.4m.

The company announced that it will go to its shareholders in March next year to obtain approval to buy back another 100m shares through another on-market buyback program. The buybacks are being partly funded by the sale recently of Foster's pubs unit, Australian Leisure & Hospitality.

Having announced the program at its recent annual meeting, Foster's bought all of the shares which had been tendered at the buyback price of A$4.00. It had received tenders for around 453.7m shares, of which 167.1m agreed with the buyback price.

Foster's also announced that it will continue the on-market program, which had been put on hold until the off-market program had been completed. This buyback will restart on 23 December, aiming to repurchase an additional 23m shares. On completion of this, the company will have repurchased 10% of Foster's issued shares.