August 19, 2019 / 6:34 PM / a month ago

UK pubs operator Greene King agrees to 4.6 billion pounds Hong Kong offer

(Reuters) - British pubs operator Greene King (GNK.L) has agreed to a 4.6 billion pounds ($5.6 billion) bid from a Hong Kong-listed company founded by the territory’s richest man Li Ka-Shing, which said it was seeking to increase its UK presence even as Brexit looms.

FILE PHOTO: A pint of beer stands on a bar in a pub in Liverpool, northern England Nov.19 , 2014. REUTERS/Phil Noble/File Photo

The offer from CK Asset (1113.HK), whose founder ranks among Asia’s best-known entrepreneurs, values shares in the brewer of Old Speckled Hen and Abbot Ale at 850 pence each or 2.7 billion pounds in total, a premium of about 51% to their Friday close.

Including debt the deal value amounts to 4.6 billion pounds, though some analysts said the cash value should be higher.

“We would see 950p per share ... as a more attractive exit price to secure shareholder consent,” said Shore Capital analysts, noting that underlying trading had improved lately.

CKA already owns a near 3% stake in Greene King, also owner of the Chef & Brewer and Hungry Horse chains and whose shares jumped 51% to match the bid price.

The proposed takeover comes after Greene King, with 2,700 pubs, restaurants and hotels across the UK, has like others struggled with a rise in the minimum wage and a move away from pub drinking among younger Britons.

Britain’s looming exit from the European Union risks denting the economy but in the meantime the weakness of sterling has made it cheaper for foreign buyers to snap up UK assets.

More than 11,000 pubs shut in the UK in the last decade, a fall of almost a quarter, a 2018 analysis by Office for National Statistics had revealed. (bit.ly/2DV3793)

However, Greene King, which replaced its long-time boss last year, in June posted a higher than expected 1.6 percent rise in annual adjusted profit before tax to 246.9 million pounds.

BRITISH CULTURE

Some saw the move as likely to lead to more pubs closing as CKA, where Li Ka-shing retired in May as chairman and passed the role to his eldest son but retains a near 30% stake, looks to cash in on their property value.

“While it’s a bottle of champagne for shareholders, there may be fewer reasons to celebrate for patrons. I think we can comfortably expect more pub closures,” Markets.com analyst Neil Wilson said.

CKA said its strategy was to look for businesses with stable and resilient characteristics and strong cash flow.

“The company believes that the United Kingdom pub and brewing sector shares these characteristics and that pubs will continue to be an important part of British culture and the eating and drinking-out market,” it said in a statement.

The deal would mark the latest in a series of investments by Li Ka-shing’s business empire in the UK, with holdings in retailer Superdrug, utilities Northumbrian Water and Wales and West Gas, and the Port of Felixstow.

It also comes as the sector sees a wave of consolidation.

Slug and Lettuce chain owner Stonegate last month agreed to buy larger rival Ei Group (EIGE.L) for 1.27 billion pounds, while Japanese brewer Asahi Group (2502.T) said it would snap up the British beer business of Fuller, Smith & Turner (FSTA.L).

Greene King’s directors intend to unanimously recommend shareholders vote in favor of the deal, which will be funded from CKA’s existing cash resources.

News of the deal lifted shares in rivals JD Wetherspoon (JDW.L), Mitchells & Butlers (MAB.L) and Marston’s (MARS.L) by between 6% and 9%.

GRAPHIC: Greene King - here

Reporting by Samantha Machado and Muvija M in Bengaluru; Editing by David Holmes

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