SYDNEY (Reuters) - Singapore-listed Frasers Centrepoint Ltd (FRCT.SI) made a surprise A$2.6 billion ($2.41 billion) cash takeover bid for Australia's Australand Property Group ALZ.AX, trumping an offer from Australian firm Stockland Corp Ltd (SGP.AX).
Backed by Thai beer billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, Frasers Centrepoint made its offer less than a week after Stockland upped its bid to A$2.5 billion, Australand said in a statement on Wednesday.
The Singapore firm is 59 percent owned by Sirivadhanabhakdi's investment company TCC Assets Ltd and 29 percent owned by his Thai Beverage PCL (TBEV.SI).
The move sets the scene for a showdown for control of Australand, which has been regarded as a takeover target since Singapore's CapitaLand Ltd (CATL.SI) announced plans to sell what was a 59 percent stake in early 2013.
Stockland, Australand's biggest shareholder with 15.7 percent, has been seen as a likely buyer in its quest to become one of Australia's biggest property companies.
In April, Australand rejected Stockland's original bid as undervalued and said it would refuse Stockland access to due diligence. A month later when Stockland increased its offer, Australand agreed to open its books to the No. 2 Australian property player.
Australand again changed its stance following the Frasers bid, saying on Wednesday it expects to recommend the higher offer and will grant the Singapore company exclusive access to conduct due diligence for four weeks.
The about-face was "based on the board's conclusion that the (Frasers) proposal provides a superior value outcome for Australand securityholders relative to Stockland's conditional proposal", Australand said in a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange.
If the Frasers offer became binding, Australand "intends to recommend the proposal in the absence of a superior proposal" and subject to an independent expert declaring it fair and reasonable, Australand added.
On top of the A$2.6 billion cash bid, Frasers is offering a distribution of A$0.1275 a share, Australand said, adding another A$74 million to the deal.
Frasers was spun off from drinks and publishing conglomerate Fraser and Neave Ltd (FRNM.SI) and listed in Singapore in January, a year after Sirivadhanabhakdi took control of the parent company.
In a statement, Frasers Chief Executive Officer said the deal would "catapult FCL to being one of Australia’s leading real estate companies with a portfolio of scale and quality".
It added that Australia was a "core market" for the Singapore company.
"This proposal will be the catalyst that will help FCL to deepen our roots and accelerate our growth in a market that we believe will continue to offer long-term growth prospects," it said.
Australand shares were suspended from trading early on Wednesday, having closed at A$4.31 per on Tuesday, compared to the $4.48 offer price from Frasers.
Additional reporting from Anshuman Daga in Singapore; Editing by Stephen Coates