* 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 (Reuters) - 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 soft-drinks.
“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.