(Reuters) – Japan’s Suntory Holdings Ltd SUNTH.UL plans to raise up to $6 billion in an initial public offering of its food and non-alcoholic drinks unit, said people with knowledge of the matter, as it looks to build funds for overseas acquisitions.
Japanese drinks firms including Suntory, Kirin Holdings Co Ltd (2503.T) and Asahi Group Holdings Ltd (2502.T) have aggressively chased expansion abroad, including through acquisitions, to be less dependent on a shrinking home market.
The maker of C.C. Lemon soft drinks and Yamazaki single malt whisky aims to more than double sales at the food and beverages unit, which does not include alcohol, to 2 trillion yen ($24.3 billion) by 2020 from 960 billion yen last year.
Suntory Beverage and Food Ltd plans to list in Tokyo in the second half of 2013, raising 400-500 billion yen ($4.9 billion-$6.1 billion), said the sources, who did not want to be identified as the plan was not public. The Nikkei newspaper earlier reported that unlisted Suntory would use the IPO funds for overseas acquisitions.
“Many of the European consumer staples have been struggling in their home markets … and as a result there may be fire sales,” said a consumer goods analyst at a foreign investment bank in Tokyo, who declined to speak on the record as the bank doesn’t cover Suntory.
Britain’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported last weekend that Diageo Plc (DGE.L) and Suntory held talks about a joint $10 billion bid for Jim Beam bourbon maker Beam Inc (BEAM.N), and the Japanese group has also been reported to have an interest in Danone SA’s (DANO.PA) water business.
So far this year, Japanese firms have spent a record $83.8 billion on outbound mergers and acquisitions, one fifth more than a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters data.
CHANGES AT HOME
Japan’s ageing population, uncertain long-term outlook and constant deflation have weighed on a fragmented beverage sector, increasing talk of consolidation as leading consumer goods firms chase market share. Japan’s beer market shrank by more than 15 percent in volume shipments in the last decade.
Earlier this year, Asahi completed a $1.5 billion deal for milky drink maker Calpis, and Sapporo Holdings Ltd (2501.T) last year paid more than $500 million for canned beverage maker Pokka Corp, in two of the larger recent domestic drinks deals.
With Japan sales likely to be pressured further on government plans to increase the sales tax to 8 percent in 2014 and to 10 percent in 2015, from 5 percent now, restructuring is more likely, increasing investor interest in Suntory.
“This is just an assumption, but, for example, if Suntory considers buying businesses which do not overlap theirs, such as (Japanese) milk beverages and canned coffee, and sees it as part of its growth strategy, (the stock) would be interesting,” said Yasuo Sakuma, chief executive of Bayview Asset Management, which had 130 billion yen ($1.6 billion) of assets under management as of end-September.
Suntory, Japan’s No.2 soft drink maker behind local bottlers for Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc (CCE.N), explored a merger with Kirin before talks broke down in 2010.
SUNTORY TO KEEP STAKE IN UNIT
Suntory, which traces its roots to the late 19th century and a small Japanese wine production business, grew in the 1920s with the country’s first malt whisky distillery, and began brewing beer in the 1960s. The Osaka-based firm bought soft drinks maker Orangina Schweppes for more than 300 billion yen in 2009, and a year later acquired the Western Europe rights to the Sunny Delight fruit drink. Last year, it entered into a joint venture with Indonesian food and beverage group GarudaFood.
The food and non-alcoholic beverages business accounts for around half the group’s total sales, according to the company’s website. At end-June, the group had cash and deposits of 225 billion yen ($2.73 billion).
After the IPO – which would be Japan’s biggest since Japan Airlines‘ (9201.T) $8.5 billion re-listing in September – Suntory plans to retain a sizeable stake in Suntory Beverage and Food, whose businesses include making tea and juices and distributing PepsiCo Inc (PEP.N) beverages and chilled drinks for Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O), the sources said.
Asked about the possible IPO, a Suntory spokeswoman said nothing had been decided.
Japan has seen 47 IPOs so far this year, raising $11.5 billion in total, with JAL accounting for nearly three-quarters of that. In the same period, Asia IPOs, excluding Japan, totalled $38.1 billion, less than half year-ago levels, according to Thomson Reuters data.