Could Buffett get busted?

The billionaire's moves to block Kraft might get noticed by government antitrust regulators, newspaper says.

By Kim Peterson Jan 7, 2010 3:00PM
Image credit: Chip East, ReutersWarren Buffett had some harsh words recently for Kraft (KFT), which wants to issue hundreds of millions of new shares to help it buy rival Cadbury.

Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) is Kraft's largest shareholder, and it voted against the share-issuance proposal. In a statement, Berkshire said no shareholder should vote "yes" when the financials of the matter are so unclear.

Buffett's public rebuke of Kraft was unusual and has raised some suspicion that he was trying to protect his stake in the Mars candy company.

This is all being reported in the New York Post, so make of it what you will. An antitrust lawyer tells the newspaper that the Federal Trade Commission could launch an investigation if Buffett was acting to protect Mars.

Buffett has a large position in privately held Mars, and in 2008 his Berkshire Hathaway lent Mars $4.4 billion to buy gum-maker Wrigley, the Post reported. Berkshire also invested $2.1 billion in Mars for preferred shares.

The theory being tossed around is that if Kraft overpays for Cadbury, it might have to lower prices to help recover some money. That could eat into Mars' market share. Mars has about 15% of the global candy market, the Post reports.

That theory doesn't strike me as completely sound. At any rate, it's the latest drama in Kraft's increasingly complicated hostile bid for Cadbury.

Meanwhile, Cadbury is looking for a rival offer from Hershey (HSY), hoping to pit the two suitors against each other, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Cadbury's board has reportedly told Hershey it would support a bid from the company, and has even whispered the kind of price it was looking for, the Journal reports.

Hershey's board appointed a special committee of outside directors to explore a possible offer for Cadbury, the Journal adds.

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