It is open to more M&A after Europe beer deals, Japan brewer Asahi says

News Hour:

Asahi Group Holdings Ltd  is open to the possibility of more acquisitions, its chief said, even after Japan’s biggest beer maker sealed $10 billion worth of deals to buy European assets from Anheuser-Busch InBev SA NV  last year.

“We are always studying potential targets. We need to keep studying, so that we can stay sharp for good deals,” Akiyoshi Koji, president of the beverage and food conglomerate, said in an interview on Tuesday, reports Reuters.

The brewer, known for Japan’s best-selling “Super Dry” beer, has been expanding beyond its domestic market as alcohol consumption declines in tandem with a rapidly aging consumer base. On Monday, industry data showed 2016 was the 12th straight year that total domestic shipments from Japan’s breweries fell.

In search of growth, Asahi is betting big on assets shed by AB InBev as its Belgian peer seeks to appease competition regulators. In less than a year after Koji became Asahi president, the Japanese beer maker made two major deals which are set to reshape its domestically focused operations.

In October, it completed the 2.55 billion euro ($2.72 billion) purchase of Western European beer brands including Peroni and Grolsch. That was followed in December by the purchase of Eastern European brands including Pilsner Urquell for 7.3 billion euros.

Koji said Asahi is financing the deals with a combination of bank loans and bond sales.

As a result, Asahi’s net debt will rise to over five times its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) – a measure of cash generated by businesses – up from three times before the acquisition of the Eastern European assets.

“I’m not saying we won’t make any acquisitions until our net debt/EBITDA goes back to three, though I’m not saying we will make any acquisitions either,” Koji said.

Asahi was among beer companies that expressed interest in buying stakes of Vietnam’s state-controlled Saigon Beer Alcohol Beverage Corp (Sabeco) SAB.HM, a Vietnamese government official said in October.

Koji declined to comment on whether his company would bid.

Since Asahi’s recent acquisitions, investor attention has shifted to an expected reshuffle of the firm’s business portfolio.

“I think Asahi will increase focus on its alcoholic drinks business, which in turn is likely to result in trimming some assets,” said Nomura Securities analyst Satoshi Fujiwara.

Already, in September, Asahi agreed to sell a 10 percent stake in China’s Tingyi Asahi Beverages Holding Co Ltd to its joint venture partners. Asahi still holds 20 percent.

Koji said the company would review its portfolio of minority interests including Tingyi as well as Tsingtao Brewery Co Ltd  – China’s second-largest brewer by volume in which Asahi holds 20 percent.

“We have to think what the best way is for our alliance with Tingyi and Tsingtao. Under the current structure, they have become purely financial investments for us,” he said.

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