Beam to Make Its Mark With a Buyout


Ever since Beam was calved off from Fortune Brands, industry watchers suspected it would get bought out. This morning, following a little more than two years in the public markets as a liquor company, Beam has announced there's a $16 billion deal in the works.

While most speculation has centered on rival Diageo as a suitor because of the need to plug a hole in its tequila portfolio after its distribution agreement for Jose Cuervo expired last June, its decision to buy the superpremium DeLeon brand with rap impresario Sean "P Diddy" Combs last week all but squelched those ruminations. Instead, Japanese beverage maker Suntory is offering Beam shareholders $83.50 a share, a 25% premium to where the stock closed on Friday, and will add the maker of Jim Beam and Maker's Mark bourbons to a portfolio that includes Bowmore scotch, Midori liqueur, and Japanese whiskies such as Hakushu, Hibiki, and Yamazaki.

Although analysts aren't expecting the combination to result in much in the way of financial savings, the merger of the two adult beverage companies would allow each to expand into new markets, with the combined company having estimated spirits sales of more than $4.3 billion annually.

Suntory gains entrance into the U.S. "browns" market in a big way while Beam can bolster its presence in Asian markets more effectively, as its performance there has been less than stellar. Last quarter, sales tumbled 20% in the Asia-Pacific segment and were down 10% over the first nine months of the year. In comparison, while Diageo saw sales barely rise in the market, that was the result of currency fluctuations and changes in government regulations for white spirits in China (browns continued to perform well); the distiller still enjoyed strong growth in Korea and India.

Similarly, Brown-Forman says it enjoyed 7% growth in its emerging markets segment that includes China, Brazil, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, and India. Analysts anticipate the Asia-Pacific region will be a good one for faster growth for spirits makers going forward.

Both Suntory's and Beam's boards have signed off on the merger, meaning it only needs the approval of the latter's shareholders to go through. With Suntory planning to fund the deal with available cash and financing from the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, the deal is expected to close in the second quarter of this year.

As the tie-up would also create the world's third-largest premium spirits distiller, there doesn't seem to be anyone else that will step forward to make a competing claim on Beam's stills. The M&A scene has been fairly active for the past few years, and while we'll still see some of the smaller players and brands snatched up, this could be one of the bigger buyouts from here on out.

As Suntory and Diageo have been long considered the leading candidates to make a play for Beam, there shouldn't be much to stand in the way of the deal being completed and investors will likely see this distiller spirited away before long.

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