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TPG, Carlyle in talks to buy $100m ABD stake

Marquee investors Carlyle Group and TPG Capital are the frontrunners to acquire a $100-million minority stake in India’s third largest distiller, Allied Blenders & Distillers (ABD), makers of Officer’s Choice whiskey, said people directly familiar with the matter.

Liquor baron Kishore Chhabria owns 95% stake in the unlisted company, with an asking valuation of at least $750 million. Industry veteran and chief executive Deepak Roy has a 5% equity interest.

ABD has mandated investment bank Ambit Holdings to advise on fund raising. The deal could end up as the most significant private equity intervention in the country’s heavily regulated and consolidating alcoholic beverage sector. The Mumbai-based company is expected to close the fiscal with a revenue of almost Rs 1,700 crore and operating profit estimated at Rs 120 crore, selling about 26 million cases (of nine litres each) branded spirits in FY14. India’s liquor sales topped 300 million cases last fiscal.

When contacted, ABD declined to comment on the story. TPG and Carlyle too offered no comments, citing their policy of not responding to market speculation.

Tough-talking Chhabria’s valuation expectation, which is closer to $1 billion, is seen as a hurdle in the ongoing negotiations, said the sources cited earlier in the report.

TPG has explored investments in the Indian liquor business for a while now, with particular focus on brand buyouts. Newbridge Capital, an Asia fund which merged with TPG, had partnered with serial entrepreneur Ramesh Vangal to bid for Shaw Wallace & Co a decade ago. Globally, TPG made a handsome gain when it sold Turkish distiller Mey Icki to Diageo for $2.1 billion last year.
Bulge-bracket investors like Carlyle too have chased the domestic consumer story despite being slow in building its India portfolio. Carlyle’s only recent investment went into a smaller private dairy firm Tirumala Milk Products, which has origins in hinterland Andhra Pradesh.

Diageo, earlier this year, sealed a deal acquiring United Spirits, the country’s largest distiller, triggering fresh interest in the sector. The deal saw two MNCs, Diageo and Pernod Ricard, controlling 60% of the domestic liquor volume and over 70% of the profit pool in an industry slammed for difficult regulations and poor compliance record.

At least four large Indian distillers have been looking to attract strategic buyers, or financial investors, in recent past. But low profits, commoditized brands and volatile cost pressures have dragged these deals. Most foreign companies have been cautious about their Indian counterparts as international anti-bribery laws get tougher.

Financial investors shied away from the sector citing corporate governance concerns, but the recent Diageo deal and the institutionalizing of the business could make then gulp down a compelling growth story.
Source: Times of India

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