PANAMA: Heineken makes $56m bid for Baru

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Dutch brewing group, Heineken, has made a $56m bid for the Panamanian brewer, Cervecerias Baru-Panama.

Heineken has made the bid for total control of the company in collaboration with its Central American partner, Florida Ice and Farm Co (FIFCO). If successful, Heineken would end up with 75% of Baru while FIFCO would own the remaining 25%. Heineken said it would be financing the deal with cash and expected Baru to make a contribution to group net profit after the first two years.

Baru is currently 52%-owned by Coca-Cola Panama (CCP), with the remaining 48% traded on the Panamanian Stock Exchange. To effect the acquisition, Heineken and FIFCO have joined forces with Panamco, the largest soft drinks bottler in Latin America, to form a company called CA Beverages, Heineken announced. The deal will also see the acquisition of CCP by Panamco. Heineken said that CA Beverages already had direct control of CCP and indirect control of Baru through the purchase of 3.9m new issued shares in CCP and said that the boards of both CCP and Baru fully supported the bid.

"Heineken believes that, in conjuction with FIFCO, the current market position of Baru can be improved considerably, with a corresponding increase in profitability," the company said. Baru currently controls around 25% of the Panamanian beer market, with sales of $26m in 2001. Earlier this year, Baru was the subject of a takeover bid by the Colombian brewing group, Bavaria, but this deal was subsequently blocked by Panamanian regulatory authorities. Bavaria already owns the country's leading brewer, Cerveceria Nacional.

But drinks analyst with WestLB Panmure Stuart Price called the deal "expensive" compared to similar acquisitions.

"Though the deal has marginal impact on Heineken's P&L and over-capitalisation, we believe that the true significance of the deal is its message to SABMiller.  After all, the expectation was that SABMiller's investment was the first step in its gradual monopolisation of the sector. With Ambev's formation of an alliance with the Pepsi bottler Cabcorp (in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras), which involves the building of a new brewery in Guatemala, SABMiller is not getting its own way," he said in a note today.

The move for Baru marks the latest phase in a rapid acquisition drive by Heineken. Only last week, the company completed the purchase of Egypt's largest drinks business, Al Ahram Beverages, which followed the acquisition of a controlling stake in the Lebanese brewer, Almaza.


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