In one of the least surprising and most long awaited shock announcements, Foster’s is to split into two separately listed beer and wine businesses.
This pretty much brings to an end the financial carnage emanating from Foster’s purchase of Southcorp Wines for $3.7b back in 2005. This was a classic case of overestimating synergies (and commitment bias, whereby the firm paid $400m than their initial offer rather than walk away from the deal). The firm’s original estimates were for $270m-300m in efficiency gains within the first three years. These never seem to have eventuated, and the firm got hit with a further whammy in terms of the Aussie dollar heading in the wrong direction (and rendering the export business much less competitive). The firm has written down a huge chunk of the value of it’s wine assets (including another $1.1b yesterday).
One valuation has put the value of the wine business at around $2.1b – which isn’t a great outcome given Foster’s also bought Berringer Wines for $2.5b back in 2000. The devaluation is no shock given the glut in grapes and weaking competitiveness of Aussie plonk.
So much for diversification reducing risk!
What will be fascinating is what happens to Foster’s Beer Arm when this split finally comes to fruition. The Aussie beer market is a very appealing, low risk, consistent margin market (at least for the two big players). It is very possible we’re going to see Foster’s under the acquisition microscope, with almost every big brewer other than Kirin (who own Lion Nathan) possible suitors.
As I’ve said before, Moors Colson, SAB Miller and Anheuser-Busch Inbev could all squeeze Fosters’ into their global portfolios quite nicely. Asahi may also want access to the profit taps of their Japanese rival (and presumably won’t cop too much grief from the regulators about their existing soft-drink assets down under).
The dark horse in all this might still be Coca Cola Amatil, although their announcement this week that their young Aussie beer business is in the red might reduce their enthusiasm.
Interesting times indeed.