Foster's weighs Courage sale deckys

Few brewing analysts were left in any doubt yesterday that Foster's Brewing in Australia was still looking to sell Courage, its subsidiary in Britain, in spite of last week's decision by the Office of Fair Trading to launch an inquiry into beer pricing.

Ted Kunkel, chief executive of Foster's, side-stepped direct questions about the possible sale of Courage, after announcing an underlying 26 per cent interim profits improvement to A$225m (£108m).

Foster's stated net profits, though, were A$7m lower at A$204m after accounting for tax and a fall in positive abnormal items from A$49m to A$2m.

Mr Kunkel said the company had started its strategic review and was "still considering" options for Courage, the second-largest brewer in Britain, which lifted operating profit contribution from £48.4m to £56.5m for the period to 31 December.

The OFT inquiry, however, will almost undoubtedly deter any potential buyer of Courage from making a move for the time being. Scottish & Newcastle Breweries and Whitbread, jointly the fourth-largest brewers in Britain, are widely viewed as the favourites to buy Courage, which is understood to be worth more than £500m.

Analysts said Mr Kunkel's upbeat comments about Courage's prospects could not necessarily mean that Foster's would not sell the business. Mr Kunkel failed to mention that Courage was recovering, and instead painted a picture of a company continuing to grow in strength.

"Courage improved its position with an excellent half-year performance which belied the difficulties of operating in a market in which production is still declining and which is further exacerbated by direct imports from continental Europe," Mr Kunkel said.

"Market share grew to 19.3 per cent with volumes up more than 2 per cent against the previous corresponding period."

Profits, however, were down 23 per cent; Courage's profits in the latest half-year are still 10 per cent shy of those in the first six months of 1992/93.

The OFT inquiry looks likely to put the block on several expected takeovers of independent pub companies by larger brewers. Frank Nicholson, joint managing director of Vaux, the Sunderland-based regional brewer, said yesterday that Vaux might be interested in buying Century Inns, which last week postponed its stock market flotation. However, if Century proposed a deal "I would not like to guess how much they are worth without seeing the OFT's findings", Mr Nicholson said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This extremely successful and well-established...

Guru Careers: FX Trader / Risk Manager

Competitive with monthly bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced FX...

Guru Careers: Investment Writer / Stock Picker

Competitive (Freelance) : Guru Careers: An Investment Writer / Stock Picker is...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue