Warren Buffett's elephant gun hits Heinz
After a dry spell, the Oracle of Omaha comes through with one of his biggest-ever deals.
By Antoine Gara
Berkshire on Thursday announced a deal to buy the iconic ketchup maker for $72.50 a share in cash, in a transaction that values the company at about $28 billion when counting debt.
To buy Heinz, Berkshire will be teaming up with private equity firm 3G Capital, an emerging presence in the foods and restaurant space.
The deal may put to rest months of speculation about where Buffett would invest Berkshire Hathaway's impressive cash hoard next. In 2009, the Oracle of Omaha, as he's known, cut his biggest-ever deal in buying railroad Burlington Northern Santa Fe for $26.5 billion, and roughly a year later Berkshire bought chemicals giant Lubrizol in a $10 billion acquisition.
At Berkshire Hathaway's annual meeting last May, Buffett fanned speculation about his next large acquisition, announcing that the company had come close to cutting a $22 billion deal during the last quarter of 2011. In January, CNBC's David Faber reported that Berkshire was in the running for the New York Stock Exchange (NYX) until a competitor bourse, IntercontinentalExchange (ICE), prevailed with a higher bid (read on TheStreet).
In a Thursday CNBC interview, Buffett said he'd been studying Heinz for decades, but that formal deal negotiations only started in December of 2012.
With 3G Capital, owner of Burger King Worldwide (BKW), Buffett is expanding Berkshire's reach into the food industry. Always eager to buy up businesses with stable earnings and enduring products, Buffett teamed up with Mars to finance its acquisition of Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. in 2008 for $23 billion.
Within Berkshire Hathaway's stock portfolio, Coca-Cola (KO) remains a top holding.
"Immediately it gave me flashbacks to the Wrigley and Mars deal," Brian Sozzi, chief equities analyst at NBG Productions said of Thursday's acquisition. "I think longer-term you are going to see more consolidation in the [food & beverage] space, chiefly because of inflation," he added, while highlighting companies such as Hershey's (HSY) or Campbell's Soup (CPB) could have been Berkshire targets.
"Heinz has strong, sustainable growth potential based on high-quality standards, continuous innovation, excellent management and great-tasting products," Buffett said in a statement announcing the deal.
"Their global success is a testament to the power of investing behind strong brand equities and the strength of their management team and processes. We are very pleased to be a part of this partnership."
Thursday's deal will be financed through a combination of cash provided by Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital, a rollover of existing debt, and financing commitments from Wells Fargo (WFC) and JPMorgan (JPM).
The proposed deal values Heinz at about a 20% premium to its Wednesday closing price. Shares in the company, which continues to breach record highs, had risen nearly 17% in the 12 months prior to Thursday's transaction.
"With Heinz stock recently at an all-time high and 30 consecutive quarters of organic topline growth, Heinz is being acquired from a position of strength," William Johnson, Heinz chairman and CEO, said in a statement.
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