Analysts at investment bank, Merrill Lynch have put a big sell recommendation on Foster’s Group ahead of its AGM tomorrow, describing it as valuing destroying.

In a scathing look at the company, they further said that the company needs to break itself up to avoid any further loss of value. They said the acquisition of Southcorp hadn’t worked and was behind much of the value destruction.

The analysts said that a combination of the low wine vintage this year (caused by the drought), prospects for another poor vintage in 2008 and the rising Australian dollar, would see the company’s earnings from wine, especially in the US, plunge in the current financial year.

Foster’s performance since the Southcorp acquisition supports our assessment that around $2bn to $2.5bn of shareholder value has been lost as a result of the purchase. And we anticipate that even more value will be lost by continuing to pursue the current strategy of combining a beer and wine business.

Our view is that Foster’s needs to break itself up to avoid further loss in shareholder value. And although the value of the break-up may not differ significantly from the current share price, it would prevent further capital being lost in the future.

… We foresee Foster’s share price falling to $5.50/share if it continues operating in its current form.

However, if the businesses are split up in the short term, we could see the company fetching possibly $6.60/share. But in 12 to 18 months time, the break-up value could fall to $5/share. We maintain our SELL rating.

The recommendation sent the shares down at the opening to a low of $6.25 this morning, but they then rose to be up 1c at $6.31 at 11.30am.

Peter Fray

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