BELGIUM/AUS: InBev silent as Foster's talk returns

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InBev has refused to be drawn on fresh speculation in Australia that it is interested in buying Foster's Group.

Shares in the Australian beer and wine giant leapt to a record high today (23 November) amid yet more speculation that InBev, the world's largest brewer by volume, could be preparing a takeover bid. Foster's share price hit a high of A$6.97 (US$5.40) before settling at A$6.80 at the closing of trading today.

Reports in Australia suggested that InBev could table an offer worth A$7.50 a share, valuing Foster's at A$15bn. However, an InBev spokesperson in Leuven would not be drawn on the takeover talk.

"We will not be commenting on the rumours that popped-up again in Australia today," the spokesperson told just-drinks.

Analysts have played down the speculation since it first surfaced in August. UK-based investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort has argued that a bid from InBev was "unlikely".

The bank said that Foster's domestic beer business would be attractive, given its sales growth last year of around 6%. However, it said Foster's wine assets would put off a brewer from bidding for the company.

"Fosters has diversified into wine through a series of acquisitions," Dresdner Kleinwort said.  A 'pure beer' bidder would therefore end up having to break up Foster's and sell the wine on to other companies, which begs the question why would they bid now, rather than having to bid for Foster's prior to the wine acquisitions?"

Foster's CEO Trevor O'Hoy has said he believes that no potential suitor would be willing to take a punt on the company while it integrates the Southcorp business and combines its wine and beer distribution networks.

"The integration of Southcorp should be completed by the end of this year," O'Hoy told just-drinks last month. "At the same time, we're combining our distribution systems, which should take between 12 and 18 months. They wouldn't want to buy into it (Foster's) until both issues were settled."

However, O'Hoy has said that Foster's would be on the radar of multinational drinks firms around the world. "The jewel in the crown is our Australian business," he said. "A lot of companies are showing interest in our multi-beverage model. While we're breaking new ground in multi-beverage, I reckon some competitors are thinking: "Let's see a bit more first"."

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