Unilever rejects $143-billion takeover bid by Kraft Heinz

Reuters London | Updated on January 13, 2018 Published on February 17, 2017


Anglo-Dutch co says $50 per share bid too low; sees no basis to continue talks

Unilever rejected a surprise $143-billion takeover bid from US food company Kraft Heinz Co on Friday, saying it saw no reason to discuss a deal which it said had no financial or strategic merit.

But while Unilever, the maker of Lipton tea and Dove soap, said the $50 per share offer undervalued it and recommended its shareholders take no action, Kraft Heinz said it looked forward to “working to reach agreement on the terms of a transaction”. Analysts saw this as a sign Kraft was open to a higher bid, although the Anglo-Dutch company said in a statement it saw no basis for further talks.

A combination of the two multinationals would be the third-biggest takeover in history and the biggest ever acquisition of a UK-based company, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Tough environment

The Kraft Heinz approach comes as the global packaged-food industry grapples with slowing growth, new competition from upstart brands, deflation in developed markets and increasingly health-conscious consumers.

Unilever has a larger presence than some peers in emerging markets, which were once the big driver of industry growth, but which have slowed in recent years. It is also feeling the after-effects of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

Although Kraft is smaller than Unilever, with a market value of $106 billion as of Thursday, it is 50.9 per cent owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital, the private equity firm that also controls Anheuser-Busch InBev. It has been widely expected to do a deal this year, given earlier reports that 3G had raised a new fund.

3G has orchestrated a string of big deals rocking the food and drink industry, including Anheuser-Busch InBev’s takeover of SABMiller and the combination of Kraft and Heinz. Unilever said Kraft’s proposal represented an 18 per cent premium to its share price on Thursday, the day before news of the bid was announced in a stock market statement.

“This is cheap money meeting industrial logic,” said Steve Clayton, manager of the HL Select UK Shares fund at Hargreaves Lansdown, which owns Unilever shares.

Fast forward

A deal would offer opportunities to combine marketing, manufacturing and distribution in addition to cutting costs. “Kraft Heinz are attempting a massive push on the Fast Forward acquire the sheer scale of brands that Unilever represents through one-off acquisitions could take decades,” Clayton added.

Published on February 17, 2017
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