Takeover rumours hang over Danone
Wimm-Bill-Dann are holding talks with France's Danone over a
Speculation has once again been rife this week that French food and drink giant Danone could be close to signing a deal with Wimm-Bill-Dann, the Russian dairy and bottled water group in which the French firm already has a minority stake.
Danone this week reported excellent like-for-like sales growth, ahead of even analysts' optimistic forecasts, helped by the hot summer weather boosting sales of its core soft drinks brands Evian and Volvic.
The good performance has done little to dampen speculation that the yoghurts-to-water company is preparing a bid for Wimm-Bill-Dann, especially since the latter has been particularly successful in recent months at generating growth in both its milk products and soft drinks divisions.
But despite the speculation, Danone is not discussing a takeover of the Russian company, at least not at the moment. In response to the growing number of press reports linking it to Danone - some of which claimed a deal could be struck as early as this month - Wimm-Bill-Dann's chairman David Iakobachvili yesterday issued a statement distancing the company from its French counterpart.
"At the present time and as previously disclosed, certain of the company's shareholders [including Iakobachvili himself] are engaged in preliminary discussions with Groupe Danone in relation to a possible transaction which may or may not result in the acquisition of all or a majority of the outstanding ordinary shares of the company," the statement read.
"The company has, at the request of these shareholders, co-operated in discussions concerning this kind of possible transaction. Neither the company nor such shareholders are engaged in discussions with any other party at this time in respect of this kind of a possible transaction.
But, tellingly, Iakobachvili stressed that "no agreement with respect to the material terms or conditions of this kind of a possible transaction with Groupe Danone has been reached", adding that "no assurances can be made that these discussions will continue or that any agreement with respect to such a transaction will be reached, or, if reached, what the form of the transaction will be".
This statement echoes an earlier one by the company issued in June in response to earlier speculation. At that time, it was thought that the shareholders involved in the talks accounted for around 60 per cent of WBD's share capital.
But the June statement also came just a few days after Iakobashvili had told an investors meeting that he did not believe Danone would bid for the company - even though the French group has made no secret of its intention to increase its share of the Russian dairy market over the next few years.
The question is how much of this speculation is being fuelled by WBD in an attempt to boost the company's share price - the rumours also suggest that delays to any deal are likely to be caused by the Russian firm's attempt to inflate the bid price.
But such speculation does nothing for Danone's share price either, with Goldman Sachs analysts last week saying that the company's shares were not reflecting the company's true worth as a result of the continued speculation.
The reality is that WBD is a good buy for Danone, provided the French group does not overpay for the company. It also runs the risk of losing out to other players likely to be interested in WBD if it does not act soon - Nestlé for example has also been linked to the company, although the rumour mill has been somewhat quiet on that score in recent months.
Predictions of a deal by the end of the month do look somewhat optimistic, but with both parties apparently keen to reach a deal, the Russian firm is almost certain to become part of the Danone empire in the near future.