Nineteen years on, a former Canadian “partner” of Fosters is returning a favour by setting up a possible takeover. As part of John Elliott’s ambitious attempt to Fosterise the world, Elders moved into a joint venture with the Molson Brewery of Canada in 1989 at the height of his powers.

It saw Elders (later renamed Fosters) merge its Canadian beer business, Carling O’Keefe, with that of Molson to produce a jointly run business that didn’t achieve what it set out to — a new North American brewing powerhouse. Former Fosters CEO Ted Kunkel ran the joint venture for a while in the 1990s.

It sold out in June 1998. And now Molson has returned the favour by appearing on the Fosters share register.

Molson Coors Brewing Company is the end result a 2005 merger of the Colorado-based Adolph Coors Company and Molson Inc. It’s the fifth largest brewing company in the world, number one position in Canada, number two in the United Kingdom, and number three in the United States — all the positions John Elliott wanted to have when he eyed the world.

In late September Deutsche Bank told the ASX it had accumulated a 5.26% in Foster’s, but didn’t identify its client.

Today, Fosters did in a two paragraph statement to the ASX:

Foster’s Group Limited (Foster’s) advises that it has been informed that the principal party behind the substantial shareholding in the Company announced by Deutsche Bank on 25 September 2008 is Molson Coors Brewing Company.

Foster’s has not been informed of the precise extent of Molson Coors’ interest in the Company nor their intentions with respect to that interest.

In the US, Molson Coors operates through joint venture MillerCoors (42%-owned with SABMiller, the world Number 2), which markets Coors, Coors Light, and Molson products, along with Miller, Miller Lite, and other brands. Molson Coors also operates in the UK and other European markets through Coors Brewers Limited.

Given that the global credit freeze is still pretty chilly, a takeover of Fosters would be problematic. It’s got a current market cap of well over $A11 billion and any bid would have to be at a substantial premium to that. Fosters shares were up 11 cents this morning to $5.96.

Molson Coors would be buying with stronger US dollars, but raising that sort of money in this climate is impossible. So it’s a longer term play and would depend on just what happens to the currencies and the freeze next year, and what Fosters does with its under performing wine business. We will learn that when the interim results are revealed next February.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey