Saputo wins Australian regulator’s nod for $1-billion Murray Goulburn takeover

The approval clears one of the last impediments to a deal that will establish the dominance of two international giants in Australia, the world’s third largest dairy exporter, amid intense competition to tap growing Asian demand.

The deal, which Murray Goulburn has said is key to its survival, was cast into doubt last month when the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said the takeover could leave some dairy farmers in the state of Victoria, the country’s largest milk-producing region, with little choice when selling their milk.

The ACCC said on Wednesday it would allow the deal after Saputo agreed to sell the Koroit plant in Victoria, which accounts for about a fifth of Australia’s milk production.

“Saputo’s divestiture undertaking has remedied the ACCC’s competition concerns about the Koroit plant,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said in a statement.

The sale of Murray Goulburn would end a tumultuous two years for the dairy co-operative. Murray Goulburn was forced to report record losses after expansion plans, which saw it overpay for milk supplies in order to produce more high-margin products such as infant formula, were scuppered by poor Chinese sales.

Warning it may breach its financial covenants, Murray Goulburn was forced to solicit takeover approaches last year, with Saputo beating out several international competitors. It will be the Canadian company’s second major investment in the country after acquiring Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory Co. in 2013 .

Should it complete the deal for Murray Goulburn, Saputo will find itself in competition with the world’s largest dairy exporter, Fonterra Cooperative Group.

“The Murray Goulburn deal is going to be structurally very significant. Saputo will want to reclaim the milk supplies lost by Murray Goulburn, primarily to Fonterra, who will not want to lose them,” said Michael Harvey, a dairy analyst at Rabobank. “It sets the scene for a battle of the giants.”

The deal must still win the approval of a majority of Murray Goulburn shareholders and Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board. Murray Goulburn plans to hold a meeting on Thursday to vote on the deal.

“We remain confident in our offer and expect to be able to finalize this transaction [by May 1],” Saputo CEO Lino Saputo Jr. said in a statement.

By: Colin Packham

Source: The Globe and Mail


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