MILAN (Reuters) - Italy’s Ferrero, the maker of Nutella chocolate spread, denied on Thursday it had received an offer from Swiss food group Nestle NESN.VX or any other competitors and said it was not for sale.
Italian daily La Repubblica said earlier that Nestle had submitted an offer for Ferrero, a family-owned firm that bankers say is worth more than 10 billion euros ($13.5 billion).
Without citing any sources directly involved in the matter, the paper said people “in the headquarters of several leading national banks” had been talking for days about the Nestle proposal, but negotiations were at an “embryonic” stage.
A spokesman for Ferrero contacted by Reuters said, however, that the report of an offer for Piedmont-based group was “complete fabrication.”
“Ferrero is not for sale in the most categorical and absolute manner,” the spokesman said.
One industry source told Reuters that Nestle was interested in buying Ferrero. Some investment bankers said there was talk in banking circles of a possible tie-up between the two given their complementary businesses.
Other banking sources said they had not heard of an approach and said Ferrero, run by 88-year-old patriarch Michele, had no plans to give up control.
The company, founded in 1946, is cash-rich and not in need of financing, people with direct knowledge of the situation told Reuters.
Investment bankers consider Ferrero one of Italy’s most valuable companies and say competitors such as candy maker Mars Inc. and Mondelez (MDLZ.O) would also be interested if it were for sale.
Intesa Sanpaolo’s (ISP.MI) investment arm Banca IMI, which La Repubblica said may be informally looking into the matter, denied any involvement and said it had no knowledge of any deal involving Nestle and Ferrero.
Nestle, which reported earlier in the day slowing sales growth in the first nine months of the year, said it did not comment on market rumors. Its shares were up 2.3 percent.
($1 = 0.7412 euros)
Reporting by Lisa Jucca and Valentina Za, additional reporting by Paola Arosio, Silke Koltrovitz and Anjuli Davies; Editing by Mark Potter