Shareholders in Serb drinks firm to reject buy offer

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Small shareholders of top Serb drinks firm Knjaz Milos are likely to reject a buyout offer from French food giant Danone as too low, flying in the face of government recommendations yesterday to accept it. Danone’s offer of 17,500 dinars ($293.36) per share was made via Apurna, an 80-20 joint venture between Danone unit General Biscuit and basketball star Vlade Divac. The offer is below UK-based fund FPP Balkan’s offer of 23,000 dinars ($385.56) per share and Slovenian brewer Pivovarna Lasko’s 19,000 dinars. «The proposal that small shareholders should agree to sell to Danone is unacceptable,» Branko Pavlovic, an adviser to Knjaz’s small stakeholders, told Reuters, citing government recommendations to shareholders that have not been made public. «How can I explain to small shareholders that they should lose 5,500 dinars per share just because someone wants to have Danone as a partner,» he said after a meeting with the state privatization agency. Refusal by the small shareholders would be a blow to the government, dragging out the sell-off crucial to plugging the country’s budget hole. None of the bids meet the full terms laid out by the government on the sale of the 72 percent stake in Knjaz, which is 41 percent held by the state and 31 percent owned by small shareholders, mainly workers at the bottling plant. Although Serbia initially said it would not sell below 20,000 dinars per share, Apurna has signaled it is ready to buy the entire 72 percent stake, which would inject some badly needed cash into government coffers. FPP, which holds 25 percent in Knjaz, right now targets the stake of small shareholders only. Lasko aims to buy from the government and a few small shareholders. «We have six more days to see if investors intend to improve their offers. This is a process and whoever is nervous is going to lose,» Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus told Reuters.