Kirin buys $560 million stake in Myanmar's top brewer from F&N

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Japan's Kirin Holdings 2503.T has bought Fraser and Neave's (F&N) FRNM.SI 55 percent stake in Myanmar's biggest brewer for $560 million, paving the way for it to dominate one of Asia's most promising beer markets.

Kirin's Ichiban Shibori beers (C) are placed in a fridge at a store in Tokyo July 10, 2014. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Kirin, like many Japanese companies, is looking to offset weak sales in a shrinking domestic market by expanding overseas. The Myanmar deal will pair Japan’s second-biggest drinks maker with state-backed Myanmar Brewery, which makes Myanmar Beer, Myanmar Double Strong and Andaman Gold brands.

Kirin’s announcement on Wednesday confirmed an earlier source-based story by Reuters. Singapore’s F&N announced the completion of the sale in a separate statement, without naming Kirin.

“Myanmar is an exciting market with considerable prospects,” Kirin said in a statement.

Myanmar Brewery has an 80 percent share of the Southeast Asian nation’s beer market, which is forecast by research firm Euromonitor International to nearly double to $675 million in three years time from an estimated $375 million this year.

Beer consumption rates in Myanmar are some of the lowest in Asia at just 3.2 liters per person in 2013, well below the 31 liters per person in neighboring Thailand, data from Euromonitor shows.

“There’s growth potential but there’s a risk in that it’s already becoming a competitive market,” Masashi Mori, a Tokyo-based analyst at Credit Suisse, said of Kirin’s plan to buy the Myanmar brewery. Mori said the price was reasonable but Kirin’s overseas track record was patchy.

Myanmar, which has emerged from decades of international isolation, has already attracted global brewers.

Heineken NV HEIN.AS opened a $60 million brewery joint-venture just outside Yangon last month, months after Carlsberg CARLb.CO became the first foreign brewer to set up in Myanmar.

Myanmar Brewery has its production base in Yangon and employs about 1,000 staff, generating earnings before interest and tax of the equivalent of $70.5 million in 2014. The company and MEHL could not be reached for comment.

Japan’s Yomiuri daily reported on Wednesday that Kirin was set to buy F&N’s 55 percent stake in Myanmar Brewery for as much as 100 billion yen ($804 million).

Reuters previously reported that SABMiller SAB.L was eyeing a stake in Myanmar Brewery, and Kirin and Thailand's Boon Rawd Brewery could also be interested.

Additional reporting by Ritsuko Shimizu, Chang-Ran Kim in TOKYO, Aradhana Aravindan in SINGAPORE, Timothy McLaughlin, Aung Hla Tun in YANGON and Denny Thomas in HONG KONG; Reporting by Anshuman Daga; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman