Coca-Cola To Buy China Huiyuan Juice Group For US$2.4 Billion

HONG KONG -(Dow Jones)- Soft-drink giant Coca-Cola Co. (KO) said Wednesday it plans to buy beverage producer China Huiyuan Juice Group Ltd. (1886.HK) for US$2.4 billion, in what will be the Atlanta-based company’s second-biggest acquisition ever.Coca-Cola said it will make an all-cash offer of HK$12.2 per Huiyuan share – or triple the stock’s last traded price of HK$4.14 before its shares were suspended.

Huiyuan’s shares rose sharply on news of the deal when they resumed trading Wednesday. They were at HK$11.14 at 0335 GMT, while the benchmark Hang Seng Index declined 1.4%. Turnover surged to HK$1.52 billion, from HK$40.1 million for all of Friday.

Coca-Cola said three of Huiyuan’s biggest shareholders, which together control almost 66% of the company’s shares, have given an “irrevocable undertaking” on the deal.

The three shareholders are Huiyuan’s parent, China Hui Yuan Juice Holdings Co., which owns 38.5% of the company, Groupe Danone SA (BN.FR), which has a 21% stake, and Warburg Pincus Private Equity LP, which has a 6.4% stake.

Coca-Cola also said it will also offer a price equivalent to HK$12.2 a share for Huiyuan’s outstanding convertible bonds and options.

The company said it hopes to take Huiyuan private, on condition that it gets support from 90% or more of Huiyuan’s shareholders. The deal is pending approval from Chinese regulators, it said.

It added that it plans to build on Huiyuan’s current brand and business model.

Beijing-based Huiyuan, which produces fruit-juice and nectar products in China, was listed in Hong Kong in February 2007. Analysts have said that Huiyuan is China’s biggest pure fruit juice producer, with a share of over 40% of the country’s market.

Ken Lee, an analyst at UOB KayHian, said Coca-Cola’s HK$12.2 per share offer price implies a valuation of 41 times Huiyuan’s forecast 2008 earnings. He expects the stock to move toward the offer price in the near term.

He said Coca-Cola’s willingness to buy Huiyuan at such a high price shows how eager foreign companies are to penetrate China’s market.

Coca-Cola has been steadily acquiring companies around the world in recent years that make juice, water and other noncarbonated drinks, to broaden its portfolio and beat back competitors.

Its largest acquisition to date is its US$4.1 billion purchase in 2007 of Energy Brands Inc., a New York-based maker of Vitaminwater.

Coca-Cola said it expects the Huiyuan deal to be accretive to its earnings per share in the third year after the deal is completed.

Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC (RBS) advised Coca-Cola on the deal, while Goldman Sachs Group (GS) advised Huiyuan.
-By Jeffrey Ng, Dow Jones Newswires; 852-2802-7002; jeffrey.ng@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires

09-03-08 0004ET

Copyright (c) 2008 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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