AUS: Foster's Group calms wine sale decision talk

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Foster's Group has calmed reports that it has dismissed the possibility of an outright sale of its wine business.

Australian newspapers yesterday (10 November) claimed that the troubled beer and wine company has ruled out a cash divestment of its wine operations due to the shaky economic climate, a lack of buyers and the belief that a current valuation of the wine side would be too low.

Speaking to just-drinks today, however, a spokesperson for Foster's said that the reports were "incorrect".

"There's no change in our position on the sale or otherwise of the wine business," the spokesperson said. "Every option - including selling the business for cash - remains on the table. The reports coming out of Australia that any options are off the table are incorrect."

In June, Foster's announced that its management had instituted a review of its global wine strategy and operations in April. "The company recognised that its performance has not met its - or shareholders' - expectations," chairman David Crawford said at the time. "Foster's also recognised and acknowledged problems with its execution of the Southcorp integration and that it paid too much to acquire wine assets."

The spokesperson confirmed today that this review should conclude in early 2009. "The results of this review will certainly be announced by the time of the release of our half-year results in mid-February," the spokesperson said.

When asked about last week's announcement by Molson Coors that it had bought a 5.3% stake in Foster's at the end of September, the spokesperson said that the company had been made aware of Molson Coors' move at the time, but that "for us, it doesn't change anything.

"We continue to focus on the business," he said.

The spokesperson also said that the two companies have not held any formal discussions. "As far as I know," the spokesperson continued, "the statement from Molson Coors that it had bought the stake is as far as any conversation has gone."

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