DealZone

Everybody Likes Cake

More big consumer brands are being dealt across the Atlantic. With Kraft’s bid for Cadbury churning, consumer goods giant Unilever plans to pay 1.275 billion euros ($1.87 billion) for a chunk of Sara Lee’s personal care brands, helping the cake maker sheds non-core businesses to focus on food. Sara Lee shareholders are sweet on the deal – bidding the stock up more than 9 percent in early trade. In a space reserved for winners and losers, this deal looks like it has natural benefits for both parties.

The asset sale is quite a bit less rich than the chocolate deal, which is for the whole of Cadbury rather than just its brands, the soap business brings with it a fresh scent of a recovery in deals activity. It is the first major acquisition for the Anglo-Dutch company’s new Chief Executive Paul Polman, and Sara Lee’s CEO Brenda Barnes is still only half-way through her business-shedding exercise.

Credit Suisse analyst Charlie Mills said the price Unilever is paying of 10 times core operating profit, or EBITDA, is not huge by industry standards, reflecting the fairly disparate collection of assets. Brylcream hair gel is part of the mix.

“We’re not convinced that this is the greatest collection of assets but another acquisition shows Unilever still moving from the back foot (cost cutting and disposals) to the front foot (volume growth and acquisitions),” he said. It may also be worth remembering that the deal speaks to Unilever’s business. It is built on brands, whereas Sara Lee is a brand unto itself.

So far as markets are concerned, Sara Lee is the winner here. Having been able to find a buyer for a huge chunk of assets it had on the block, it is now going to be able to buy back more stock and preserve its 11-cent quarterly dividend.

Hot Chocolate

How much sweeter will Kraft’s bid for Cadbury get? Chief Executive Todd Stitzer seemed to be telling investors — according to banker’s note we got hold of — that a 20 percent higher bid from Kraft, or about 12.2 billion pounds ($19.93 billion), would be a fair price. Investors don’t seem to have bought into his enthusiasm, having not bid the stock to anywhere near such a premium.

“On price, Todd seemed to admit that a 15x EBITDA multiple would be a fair price,” the note by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch sales specialist Simon Archer said. Analysts say a multiple at that level puts the price for Cadbury at around 900 pence per share.

Archer has since issued a clarification saying Stitzer’s comments “were only in the context of comparable transactions being in the mid-teens – he was not implying a fair value for the business”.

Warren Wonka the Candyman?

Warren Buffett knows sweets. His Berkshire Hathaway is the largest shareholder in Kraft Foods, which made an unsolicited — and rebuffed — $16 billion bid for Cadbury. The Wall Street Journal reported that the trust that holds voting control of Hershey has hired Buffett’s favorite banker, Byron Trott, as it also weighs whether to pursue the British chocolate maker.

Trott, a former Goldman Sachs banker who runs his own firm now, is known for his expertise in candy as well as in advising family- and trust-owned companies. He convinced Buffett to pay $6.5 billion to help finance Mars in its $23 billion takeover of Wrigley last year.

Paritosh Bansal and Jessica Hall report that while Trott’s latest engagement may not have anything to do with Buffett, he may end up helping the billionaire investor. Sources previously told Reuters Hershey is unlikely to make a bid on its own for all of Cadbury. But Hershey may want to pick up pieces of Cadbury, which makes Dairy Milk chocolate, Halls cough drops and Trident gum. This could bode well for Buffett, some investors said.

Keeping score: UK M&A, Asian tech and US debt

Here are the highlights from this week’s Thomson Reuters investment banking scorecard:

Cadbury deal lifts UK M&A to $168.8 billion

The $19.3 billion offer by Kraft Foods for UK confectioner Cadbury lifted UK target M&A to $168.8 billion for the year-to-date period, an increase of 19% over last year. The transaction could rank as the second largest non-government acquisition in the UK this year after Xstrata’s $42.5 billion bid for Anglo American in June.

UBS, which advised on both the Cadbury and Anglo deals as well as the UK government investments in Lloyds Banking Group and RBS, leads the year-to-date UK target league table with $124.6 billion from 21 announced deals.

The bulls and bears on equity rallies and M&A

Rising stock markets and talk of improving economic confidence have prompted a barrage of analyst notes on how the M&A market is picking up.  Check out what I wrote on the subject earlier Thursday .

Here’s a few quick points from others:

Citigroup said that as global economic indicators stabilize, financing markets reopen and equity markets recover, hostile takeovers may be poised for a sharp resurgence. “Indeed, many recent high profile M&A transactions have been unsolicited or hostile in nature,” a note said.

My colleague Quentin Webb talked about mergers and aggravation, or hostile bids,  in July.

Poor? Some chocolate?

IndiaIf they don’t have bread, will they eat chocolates?

Cadbury’s hold on emerging markets such as India is part of the reason why Kraft wants the company so much, the Wall Street Journal said

The paper points out that Cadbury estimates more than half of India’s more than 1 billion people have never tasted chocolate, providing an opportunity for growth.

That’s a big number, but not necessarily a huge market. 

India measures poverty line in terms of daily calorie intake — 2,400 calories for folks living in rural areas and 2,100 for those living in cities. On that basis, the government estimates 27.5 percent of Indians lived below the poverty line in 2004-05. The measure might be conservative. As this New York Times report points out some say the number is at least 50 percent, and the actual caloric intake of the poorest 25 percent just 1,624 calories. 

Is the worst over?

Merger mania is back, at least that’s what the numbers seem to show.

A staggering total of about $60 billion worth of corporate deals have been announced or rumoured in global markets since Saturday alone. The takeover feast is impressive, spread as it is across diverse sectors such as foods, semiconductors, financials and telecoms.

Kraft Foods’s blockbuster $16.7 billion offer to buy Cadbury has suddenly turned the spotlight back to dealmaking and swept away markets’ lingering concerns of patchy economic growth. The rising deal volume is a welcome relief for investment banks, who’ve gone through a torrid year after Lehman’s bankruptcy last September brought M&A to a halt. The dealmaking will help them partly fill their coffers with much-needed advisory fees and a kick up in the league tables.

No doubt with many equity markets rallying to 2009 highs, and lured by prospects of improved valuations, many buyers are chasing deals while prices are seen as cheap. That could have been the thinking behind Abu Dhabi’s move to offer $1.8 billion to buy loss-making Nasdaq-listed, Singapore-based Chartered Semiconductor in a chip sector emerging from its worst downturn.

from Commentaries:

Cadbury’s Kraft sugar rush overdone

KRAFT-CADBURY/Kraft's offer for Cadbury got off to a sticky start on Tuesday when the U.S. food group's stock fell 6 percent, taking some of the buzz out of Cadbury's bid-fuelled share price.

Kraft's initial offer has raised expectations of a higher bid, but while it is likely to have to pay more to win, the take-out prices now being touted are stretching the value of the British confectionery group further than a Curly Wurly.

The multiple paid by Mars to Wrigley -- some 17.5 times EBITDA -- has encouraged analysts to look for a valuation of 15-16 times forecast 2009 EBITDA, implying a price of 10 pounds or more, against Kraft's 7.16 pound per share offer after the fall in the Kraft price. The Cadbury share price also gave up some of its gains, but is still well above the value of the bid.

Will Cadbury prove too rich for Kraft?

August may be considered the month of silly news when bankers virtually pack up and retreat to their summer hideaways with their blackberries. But not so for those at Lazard, Citigroup, and Deutsche Bank, left behind to advise Kraft, the world’s second-largest food manufacturer after Nestle, on its bid for Cadbury. Kraft is offering £10.2 billion ($16.75 billion) in cash and stock for the sweets group.

Cadbury’s board, led by its relatively new chairman, Roger Carr and advised by Goldman and UBS, has rejected the offer on the table of 745p per share as too low, even with a 40 percent premium attached. Carr and Chief Executive Todd Stitzer figure they can do a better job on their own.

Analysts had caught a scent of the deal in July, but they had not expected one to come so soon. News of Kraft’s late-August approach broke on Monday, pushing Cadbury’s shares up toward the 800p mark – a valuation analysts said was more realistic, and one that Cadbury’s board might be willing to recommend to its shareholders.