INDIA/UK: UB could walk away from Whyte & Mackay talks

By | 31 January 2007

A top executive at Indian drinks giant UB Group has insisted the company is prepared to walk away from talks to buy Whyte & Mackay.

P. J. Murali, CFO of UB's distilling arm, United Spirits, told just-drinks today (31 January) that the group is also in talks with "alternative parties" in the whisky industry over possible tie-ups.

Murali said takeover talks with Whyte & Mackay, which first began last October are "still happening". However, he said United Spirits is unwilling to buy the UK distiller "at any cost".

"There is only so far we can go; we have ascribed a particular value to the asset but we are not interested in getting Whyte & Mackay at any cost," he told just-drinks. "We are talking about alternatives and we are keeping our options open. We feel Whyte & Mackay is best suited but if it doesn't work out, life must go on."

Speculation abounded earlier this week that negotiations between the two sides had reached an impasse over price. It was not the first time such rumours had surfaced; in October discussions were believed to have hit a snag over the price demanded by Whyte & Mackay's chairman and chief executive Vivian Imerman.

Murali declined to reveal how much United Spirits valued Whyte & Mackay and if that valuation fell short of Imerman's value of the company. "We are entering an area where I would not be able to comment," he said.

However, Murali pointed to UB's aborted bid to buy Champagne house Taittinger last year as an example of how the company was not prepared to pay over the odds.

He said: "On the Taittinger deal, it went beyond a point where we didn't want to go and we walked away. We are interested at looking at the value to our shareholders."

Murali reiterated that talks between the two companies are ongoing, but he refused to give a time frame on how long negotiations could last.

Officials at Whyte & Mackay could not be reached for comment as just-drinks went to press.

Sectors: Spirits, Wine

Companies: Whyte & Mackay, UB Group

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