British pubs in €460m bid

Heineken is in advanced talks to buy Punch Taverns for £386m (€460m), competing with one of the chain’s founders to expand its network of British taverns.

The Dutch brewer may offer 174p a share in cash, while Punch co-founder Alan McIntosh’s Emerald Investment Partners is considering a 185p a share bid, although it’s not fully funded, the pub chain said in a statement after news of the offers leaked.

The stock rose as much as 41%, trading between the two bids.

Such a purchase would add 3,300 pubs to Heineken’s UK pub business, called Star Pubs & Bars, which controls about 1,100 taverns throughout Britain.

Punch shares have fallen 97% since a peak in 2007 as UK bars struggle with cheaper supermarket booze, a smoking ban, and restrictive drinks-purchasing agreements.

“They have said pubs are good for innovation, understanding the customer, and that it’s a profitable business,” said Ed Mundy, an analyst at Jefferies.

Punch Taverns joins a growing list of UK companies attracting interest from overseas suitors, who are benefiting from a fall in the pound since the June vote to leave the EU.

Others include pay-TV provider Sky, which 21st Century Fox has approached about a full takeover.

Punch Taverns, which loaded up on debt just as the recession hit and the smoking ban came into effect, hasn’t recorded a fiscal year of revenue growth since 2007.

Some analysts questioned why Heineken would want to expand its pub business, as owning taverns is more common among microbreweries than major producers.

“It would look to be somewhat off-strategy,” said Andrew Holland, an analyst at Societe Generale.

“It’s a bit of a throwback to the way the UK pub industry used to be structured and is not obviously related to Heineken’s global ambition.”

Bidders have until January 11 to say they will make a firm offer or walk away, Punch said.

Heineken and Emerald, formed by McIntosh in 2012, declined to comment.

Punch said there is no certainty of a firm bid. The company made the announcement after a report by Sky News about the takeover interest, and without prior agreement from Heineken or Emerald.

In 2011, Punch Taverns split in two.


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