Coca-Cola Amatil Makes $173 million Bid for Neverfail Springwater

Coca-Cola Amatil (CCA), the Asian soft drinks group made a US$173m surprise takeover bid for Neverfail Springwater, Australia's largest bottled water delivery business, in an attempt to double its sales in the country's fast-growing water market.

Sydney-based CCA, which on Monday became Neverfail's largest shareholder by taking a 15 per cent stake, is offering A$2.25 a share for the target company, a 22 per cent premium over Monday's A$1.85 closing price.

However, Neverfail said it considered the cash and assumed debt offer to be hostile and advised its shareholders against acting until the board had reviewed it.

Speculation that a rival offer was likely - analysts touted on Nestlé and Groupe Danone, the Swiss and French food groups, as possible counter-bidders - pushed Neverfail's shares up 51 cents, or 28 per cent, to A$2.36 on Tuesday.

CCA, which is 35 percent owned by Coca-Cola, said it wanted to become a broader based beverage company. Although it owns the Mount Franklin bottled water and Powerade sports drink brands, soft drinks comprise about 90 percent of Amatil's sales.

"The acquisition of Neverfail would represent an important step in realizing this goal as it will complement our existing packaged water business and double our annual water volume in Australia," said Terry Davis, managing director.

Bottled water and juice make up almost half of Australia's non-alcoholic drinks market, with water the second-fastest growing beverage in the market after sports drinks.

CCA said it wanted to extend Neverfail's brands to its retail customer base, particularly in major food stores and service stations, and would fund the takeover from existing debt facilities.

Analysts said the acquisition, although small for CCA, which has a market capitalization of A$3.9bn, would diversify the company's business.

"This is a good brand and it would certainly bring Coca-Cola Amatil into a new area of the market," said David Cooke of ABN Amro in Sydney. "I think they'll do well to make it happen."

The home delivery market represents 20 percent of Australian water sales and Neverfail is the dominant player with about two-thirds of the market.

The offer is subject to regulatory approval and CCA must also win at least 90 percent of Neverfail shares.

Financial Times

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