Kraft’s sugar high

January 19, 2010

Kraft was always expected to raise its bid for Cadbury, even with no real rival to its initial overture and grumblings from top shareholder Warren Buffett about Kraft possibly overpaying with its stock. The only question was how much. But if it did overpay, it did so with credit. Just in case shareholders were thinking of making a stink, CEO Irene Rosenfeld ratcheted up the cash component to a level that negates the need for shareholder approval.

Dealmakers said the agreement was struck after all-night negotiations in London. It values Cadbury at 840 pence per share. Shareholders will also get a special dividend of 10p per share, bringing the total to 850p per share. That far exceeds scaled-back expectations and was a big jump from the sub-800p levels that had so soured earlier negotiations.

With growing expectations that Hershey would muster a bid around these levels, and all of those high-brow British M&A deadlines clicking into place, getting a friendly agreement had gained urgency going into the weekend. While pundits’ palates (beyond those of fondue-chomping Europhiles, if you keep an ear on CNBC) may rebel at the swirling of chocolate and cheese, Rosenfeld has for at least a day gone from looking outflanked by both her own shareholders and grumpy Cadbury executives to a box of chocolate roses.

The proof will be in the pudding. The question of digestion has yet to be answered. The new deal increased Kraft’s annual cost savings target to at least $675 million by year three, up from $625 million. Though it made no mention of possible job losses among Cadbury’s 46,000-strong global workforce, the deal has gone from “derisory,” as Cadbury initially called it, to delicious quickly enough to wonder why Kraft took so long to close it.

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