Saputo reaches 50 per cent stake, extends WCB offer

SAPUTO has extended its Warrnambool Cheese and Butter offer deadline by two weeks after gaining another 1.15 per cent stake overnight.

Saputo was set to enter the final day of its takeover bid just 2.2 per cent short of gaining a controlling shareholding.

The Canadian company yesterday announced that its holding had increased to 47.85 per cent, with the bid due to close at 7pm today.

See an updated timeline of the WCB takeover

However, market speculation last night indicated fund manager Wilson Asset Management had agreed to sell Saputo its small stake in the takeover target, bringing Saputo to 50 per cent.

Fund manager Geoff Wilson's 1.15 per cent stake in WCB, an additional 1.2 million shares, would take Saputo over the line to secure the takeover victory, now with 49 per cent locked up.

With the deadline drawing close yesterday, rival bidder Murray Goulburn had yet to declare what it would do with its 17.7 per cent shareholding.

A spokesman yesterday said the co-operative had not made a decision on the matter.

Murray Goulburn is facing three possible scenarios.

It can sell before today’s 7pm deadline, reaping a profit of about $45 million.

If Saputo is over the line, Murray Goulburn would have a further two weeks to sell because the offer will automatically be extended under provisions of the Corporations Act.

Meanwhile, trading in WCB shares on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) is continuing at a level that appears to defy logic.

Since Bega Cheese announced its decision to sell its 18.8 per cent stake to Saputo, taking it within five per cent of a successful takeover, on-market trading has been vigorous.

On the day of the announcement nearly half a million shares traded at up to $9.42. Another half million shares have been traded since then at up to $9.41.

Saputo is paying $9 per share, increasing to $9.20, $9.40 and $9.60 on reaching ownership levels of 50, 75 and 90 per cent, ruling out any significant profit for these investors and suggesting that the trading is strategic.

Bill Richmond, senior stockbroker with Bell Potter Securities, said he was mystified by this activity.

Mr Richmond said he had no idea what could be motivating the investors.

Murray Goulburn said two weeks ago it would buy on market up to the allowed maximum holding of 19.9 per cent. The volume of shares traded on-market since then easily exceeds what the co-operative is allowed to buy. Murray Goulburn has not made an announcement to the ASX of an increase in shareholding, required on gaining an extra 1 per cent, indicating that the co-operative is not responsible for the buying surge.

shynes@fairfaxmedia.com.au

- Steve Hynes is a WCB shareholder.

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