Posts Tagged ‘Fosters’

My bro does the hard work for me

June 20, 2012

I was in the process of drafting a post about the recently announced Lion Nathan/Kirin takeover of Little World (the folks who brew Little Creatures and White Rabbit), but my little brother meet me to it.  So head to his always entertaining and insightful blog and read about it: It’s a Little World after all

… OK, now that you’re back, I would add that this was a nice “long play” by Lion Nathan/Kirin given they had a ‘blocking’ shareholding in this growing firm from the outset (20% on formation, 35% since the IPO in 2005). This meant no rival brewer (i.e. Fosters, Coca Cola Amatil or Coopers) was going to get hold of this prospect without Lion getting a ‘right of reply’.

It was a very sensible ‘option’ to have taken on what has turned out to the most successful craftbrewer in Australia in terms of growth and brand awareness (Little World pitched themselves as the 5th biggest Aussie brewer in this document).

Lion does have a history with acquisitions of microbrewers, taking over Hahn back in 1993 (see here for a decent description of that move), which has evolved into James Squire.

And, Lion Nathan failed in a bid for Coopers a few years ago.

I agree with Leon that the biggest ‘kick’ that’ll come from this acquisition will be much greater reach for Little Creatures beers.  I would not be surprised to see the brand become a real challenger to Coopers in the medium-term (and wallop SAB Miller’s/Matilda Bay’s Fat Yak along the way).

And, meanwhile,the Casella/Yellowtail beer (that I mentioned back here) is finally on the shelves, and the winemakers are talking very ambitiously (their brewery reportedly has the capacity to service 7% of the Aussie market – that’s more than Coopers!).

Maybe even macro-brewing might get interesting in Australia in the coming couple of years.

 

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Bluing about brewing: Will SABMiller bring on an Aussie apocalypse?

September 22, 2011

I’m not sure which is less surprising: (a) the announcement that the Foster’s Board are now supporting SABMiller’s takeover offer; or (b) the ill-informed hysteria in the tabloid press about the ‘loss of an Aussie icon’.

But let’s have a look at The Hysteria.  The grounds for concern are shaky at best.  The three main complaints are: (i) jobs may be lost; (ii) iconic brands might be neglected, and (iii) profits will head offshore.

Let’s take each complaint. First, will jobs be lost?

I can’t see massive changes to the location of manufacturing . Beer is one of the least international-trade-worthy products due to its high weight-to-value ratio and perishability.  That’s why we see so much licensing of brands across borders, contract brewing, and takeovers just like this one. So brewing jobs won’t be heading offshore (nor packaging, labelling, distribution, engineering). Likewise, technology-wise there are no real gains or innovations that are likely to change labour-capital ratios in this extremely mature industry. So, the brewery jobs should stay.  In anything, if SABMiller can successfully launch and market their deep suite of brands (which will inevitably be brewed locally), then we could actually see some upswing in manufacturing.  Any job losses that might occur are most likely to be in the (old) head-office, with some scope to reduce duplication of tasks.  Even then, I’d predict more turnover than simple shedding of positions, as SABMiller attempts to rejuvenate a pretty moribund mob.

So, will these Anglo-South African-Yankee newcomers tear down long-adored Aussie beer brands?

This is a really curious set of concerns, and based on a number of falsehoods.  Foster’s (and it’s various previous incarnations) has itself been pretty free-willing and cannibalistic in its stewardship of brands for decades. One time icons like Abbotsford Lager/Stout have been demoted, labels have been dramatically altered, sleepy bit-players have been promoted (including VB and Crown Lager) and pushed beyond their Victorian homeland, and even the headline ‘brand’ of Fosters’ holds little-to-no local market relevance (as every Aussie traveller finds themselves having to explain to befuddled foreigners).  Indeed, Foster’s has been making much higher margins on licensed foreign brands such as Corona in recent years than on these supposed national treasures. Yet local ‘Aussie battlers’ haven’t been hitting the airwaves to protest that ‘treachery’.

It is in SABMiller’s interests to maintain and perhaps even revitalise the fortunes of many/all of the aforementioned product lines.  Given Foster’s retreat from foreign beer markets in the past decade, SABMiller taking ownership of these Aussie brands might indeed be the best chance of seeing more than a token blue and white can of Australian ale on overseas shelves.  My personal hope: that SABMiller promotes the much tastier Fat Yak as a higher end export (and maybe also Blue Tongue which I’m guessing comes with the suite of CCAmatil/Pacific Beverages assets that appear to be part of this deal).  That would be doing a lot more to improve Australia’s beer reputation than the currently bland product licensing.

Of course, SABMiller will presumably also increase the availability of its broader range of international brands.  That will test the ‘loyalty’ of died-in-the-wool Aussie drinkers.  But that isn’t SABMiller’s problem or fault.

Finally, won’t profits head offshore?

Firstly, it’s not clear how the average Australia benefitted from Foster’s profits up to now.  Sure, the firm paid taxes, but so will SABMiller.  Shareholders got returns (although pretty paltry ones in recent years given the wine debacle), but they are also getting a decent premium in the takeover.  And if they want to keep getting a piece of the action, SABMiller is listed on the London stock exchange (and in Johannesburg). Again, SABMiller is likely to be making more generous investments in revitalising the Foster’s business in the coming years than the incumbent management have been, so it remains unclear that this is a case where the business is going to be ‘taken offshore’.

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So, in conclusion, I’m arguing that this particular foreign takeover is likely to be one the least harmful we see in Australia in the near future. The nature of the industry is one that doesn’t lend itself to offshoring of key functions, and we should be more interested in what it might do to resurrect a dull duopoly market.

 

Dueling Duopolists, or, who should we cheer for when bullies battle?

March 24, 2011

The Aussie news headlines have been buzzing in recent days with the competing cries of our embattled brewers and the ‘on the side of the consumer’ supermarket giants, over an alleged effort by the latter to sell the majors’ beers as ‘loss leaders’.  See here and here for a reasonable summary.

This is the latest staple product to get this sort of a run (after milk and petrol) as Woolworths and the revitalised Coles (as part of Wesfarmers) engage in some much-missed competition.  Of course, it isn’t competition via ‘across the board’ price cuts, but, rather, through trying to switch buying preferences from one chain to the other (utilising the grocer’s associated liquor chains).

And poor old Foster’s (and presumably the much quieter Lion Nathan) are worried that this (alleged) predatory pricing will hurt their margins, and those of independent liquor retailers.

The reality of all this is that we’re talking about two pairs of behemoths locking horns, and competition here is a very different beast to that envisaged in perfect markets.  Look at the numbers:

– Foster’s (48% market share) and Lion Nathan (44%) amount to 92 percent of the Aussie beer market

– Woolworths and Coles/Wesfarmers amount to roughly 50% of the Aussie liquor retailing market (with most other sales through small, independent retailers)

– Woolworths (around 40%) and Coles/Wesfarmers  (around 35%) amount to roughly 75% of the Aussie grocery market

Those are the sort of market shares we called oligopolistic, or indeed duopolistic, with competition often reaching a calm equilibrium through effective price signalling and/or maintenance of market share.

Foster’s are kicking and screaming, however, due to concerns about the buying power of the two retail giants. Now, if Foster’s had a significant retail arm it might be able to curb such a threat (and earn more of those nice rents from the duopoly power).

But back in 2003 the brewer sold off Australian Liquor and Hospitality Group (ALH), which operated 131 hotels and 109 bottle shops. ALH now runs 285 licensed venues and over 450 retail liquor outlets.  And guess who now owns 75% ALH… Woolworths.  It seems Foster’s handed Woolworths the stick it is now being beaten with.

There’s talk that this behaviour will all come under the scrutiny of some eagle-eyed politicians in Canberra in the coming weeks.  Now, we’d hope they know a lot about duopolies (i.e. systems with two powerful parties)…

Fostering a Chinese wine giant?

July 28, 2010

While we all wait eagerly to see who might buy up the soon-to-be-untangled Foster’s beer business (see this piece for a recent update of the contenders), it is possible that the more fascinating and globally significant acquisition might actually occur on the wine side of the company’s separation.

An Australian article last month got me looking into the prospect of a Chinese takeover of some or all of the forthcoming wine business (renamed as Treasury Wine Estates).  The article mentions that China’s Bright Foods, failed bidder for CSR’s sugar business, has sounded out Foster’s about the firm’s “Hunter Valley operations focused on the blue-chip Rosemount brand”.

I was a little unclear on the size and scale of China’s wine market.  I have certainly heard the usual extravagant claims that it could be an enormous untapped opportunity for Australian exporters, but what I was unaware of was the actual scale of existing domestic production.

According to this academic study China is already the 6th largest producer of wine in the world (at 13,005m hectalitres in 2008).  That’s more than Australia (11,700m), South Africa (9,890m), Chile (7,860m) and NZ (1,700m).  Chinese production grew 17% between 2004-8, while pretty much all ahead and around them on the list experienced pretty hefty declines in volumes (e.g. Australia fell 20%, France 25%).

Certainly China is not currently a significant exporter of wine (unlike most of the other major producer nations), and the initial focus of any foreign acquisitions will likely be on servicing the Chinese market with higher quality imports.

The longer-term picture is where it gets interesting, however. Picking up a firm with strong international brands (which Bright Foods would certainly be doing if they secured some/all of Treasury) would allow the Chinese firm to build up much-needed expertise in marketing and distributing beyond Chinese shores.

This could well be the birth of a new wine giant.

(As an aside, there is an unfortunate irony to the possibility of a big chunk of Foster’s shifting into Chinese hands, as the firm had a very torrid time from 1993-2006 trying to build a beer presence in the country).

Fosters’ splitting headache

May 27, 2010

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.