* F&N to decide on Heineken's offer by Friday
* Coke showing interest in F&N's beverage unit - sources
* Thai billionaire, Japan's Kirin in the fray
* F&N pressing Heineken for higher price - sources
By John O'Callaghan and Saeed Azhar
SINGAPORE, Aug 2 A battle for control of Tiger
Beer, 24 breweries in Asia and lucrative soft-drink brands
should be decided by Friday as Fraser and Neave weighs
a takeover bid by Heineken that could break up the Singapore
beverage and property group.
The Dutch brewer, already a shareholder in F&N's prized unit
Asia Pacific Breweries (APB), is defending its turf
against Thailand's second-richest man as he seeks to expand his
beer business in the fast-growing Asian market.
The stakes are high for Heineken as control over
APB may more than double the share of profits it gets from Asia.
To complicate the bidding for APB, Japan's Kirin Holdings
has its own interests to protect as an F&N shareholder
while Coca-Cola is keeping a keen eye on the line of
"Heineken is the one with the bigger muscle, they're the
stronger party, but they definitely have to come up with an
offer that no one can resist," said Roger Tan, chief executive
of SIAS Research.
Heineken, which owns 42 percent of APB, extended its $4.1
billion offer for F&N's 40 percent stake in the Singapore-listed
brewer until this Friday.
Shares of F&N and APB were suspended from trading on
Thursday after sources told Reuters that F&N's board, whose
chairman Lee Hsien Yang is the younger son of Singapore's elder
statesman Lee Kuan Yew, is pressing for a better offer.
At stake are Tiger and other brands of beer, fruit juices,
dairy products and the popular soft-drink 100PLUS. APB runs two
dozen breweries in 14 countries including Singapore, Malaysia,
Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia.
Heineken began brewing Tiger with F&N in the 1930s but that
long partnership is now on the rocks after companies linked to
Thai billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi bought stakes in F&N
and APB for $3 billion last month.
Charoen's Thai Beverage has since raised its stake
in F&N to 24.1 percent, making it the biggest shareholder, ahead
of the 15 percent owned by Kirin.
The Thai investment pushed Heineken to offer about $6
billion to take full control of the Singapore-based APB from F&N
and the minority shareholders.
If its bid succeeds, European analysts say, the proportion
of Heineken's profits from Asia would rise to 15 percent from 6
percent, lifting the growth rate of the whole group.
COKE "SHOWING A LOT OF INTEREST"
Coca-Cola, the world's largest soft-drinks maker, sees a
possible opportunity to bid for F&N's beverage business but is
waiting to see how things go, a source familiar with the
situation told Reuters.
Another source told Reuters that Coca-Cola "is showing a lot
of interest in this."
A U.S.-based spokesman for Coca-Cola declined to comment.
Banking sources have said a bid by Coca-Cola for the
beverage business would be possible only if F&N is broken up and
that Kirin could also be a potential suitor.
Last year, F&N and Coca-Cola ended a partnership under which
F&N bottled and sold Coca-Cola's drinks in Malaysia and
Coca-Cola did the same for F&N in Singapore.
The bulk of F&N's food and beverage business is locked up in
its Malaysian unit, whose shares were up 3.6 percent
on Thursday due to Coca-Cola's possible interest.
Without APB, F&N will rely heavily on its property assets
that include upmarket malls in Singapore and serviced apartments
in various parts of the world, with 80 percent of its earnings
coming from that sector, Nomura Holdings estimates.
F&N shares have jumped 31.5 percent so far this year to
close at S$8.15 on Wednesday but have come off a record S$8.49.
APB shares, which last traded at S$49.50, have surged 71.9
percent since the start of the year.