| HONG KONG/MELBOURNE
HONG KONG/MELBOURNE Nov 23 Blackstone Group LP
and China agribusiness company New Hope Group are through
to the final round of bidding for Australia's largest poultry
producer Inghams Enterprises, a deal that could be worth as much
as A$1.4 billion ($1.5 billion), sources with knowledge of the
matter told Reuters.
Second-round bids are due by mid-December in the deal, which
could be the largest private equity buyout in Asia this year,
the sources said.
Inghams Enterprises, which owns the Ingham Chicken brand,
was founded in 1918 by Walter Ingham and employs 9,000 people
across Australia and New Zealand. Bob Ingham, who turned 81 this
year, decided to sell the business he inherited in 1953 from his
Australian food manufacturers have been highly sought after
by private equity and other Asian buyers in the past two years
due to resilient sales and steady cashflows, which have
withstood a slowing economy.
New Hope Group Co Ltd is one of China's largest
suppliers of meat, eggs and dairy products, with annual sales of
$8.8 billion, according to its website.
It operates agribusinesses in China and has expanded into
the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam and owns more
than 10 animal feed plants and poultry farms in Southeast Asia.
Blackstone, the world's largest alternative asset manager,
is being advised by UK bank Barclays, according to
three banking sources with knowledge of the situation.
If Blackstone were to succeed, it would mark its first
buyout deal in Australia, after buying U.S. property investments
owned by Australian firms.
Several other private equity funds, including Hong
Kong-based Affinity Equity Partners, Bain Capital and KKR & Co
, were initially drawn to the auction but did not lodge
preliminary offers, sources said.
Thailand's C.P. Foods also placed a preliminary
bid, but has now dropped its interest in privately owned Ingham,
Australia's largest chicken brand with annual sales of A$2.1
billion, the sources said.
The sources declined to be identified as the sale process
"Inghams is working with its financial advisor Investec to
manage the sale process and to assess all options for the
company. We are not disclosing details regarding bidders at this
stage," a spokeswoman for Inghams told Reuters in an email.
Inghams' top customers are Australia's supermarket duopoly
of Woolworths Ltd and Coles, who have strong
market power to pressure suppliers.
An external spokeswoman for Blackstone said the firm
declined to comment. A spokesman for New Hope was not