Global peers show interest in United Spirits, says Mallya
UB Group chairman Vijay Mallya said several global liquor giants have shown interest in picking up a small stake in his flagship United Spirits Ltd (USL). While he has “exchanged ideas”, there are no formal talks till now, he added. “There are interested parties. Multinationals would like to be part of United Spirits given its market leadership in India. They know that I hold treasury stocks in the company. We have exchanged ideas, but there is no concrete talk,” Mr Mallya told ET. Earlier this month, ET reported the possibility of UK-based drinks giant Diageo Plc showing interest in taking a small exposure in USL, the world’s third largest spirits marketer by volume. Other global peers like Bacardi and Pernod Ricard could also be in fray if India’s liquor czar allows a foothold for strategic investors. USL’s current mcap is pegged at $4.64 billion, up significantly from $1.94 billion in March this year. USL, which is working on merging Shaw Wallace & Co with itself, is expected to have a treasury stock pool of around 13 million shares, which could be used for de-leveraging its recent acquisitions. At Wednesday’s stock close of Rs 1861 on NSE, the treasury stocks are worth around $600 million (Rs 2400 crore). USL acquired Whyte & Mackay for $1.18 billion in a fully leveraged transaction in May this year. “We de-leveraged the Shaw Wallace & Co acquisition and paid off debts even before the moratorium period. I intend to do the same with regard to Whyte & Mackay,” Mr Mallya said. Later, he told mediapersons that USL was looking at raising around $300 million for retiring some of the Whyte & Mackay debts. He added that the company, however, would continue to look out for acquisitions, both big and small, if opportunities came its way. USL controls around 55% of the domestic branded liquor business, or Indian Made Foreign Liquor as it is called in the excise manuals. India is arguably the hottest growth spot for the global drinks industry with majors like Diageo projecting that it could well be the biggest market for scotch whiskies in future. However, observers said USL was unlikely to offer anything over 10% stake to any investor, which may be a deterrent to a strategic player.