(Reuters) - North American brewer Molson Coors beat close rival Asahi on Tuesday to buy east European brewer StarBev from CVC Capital Partners CVC.UL for 2.65 billion euros ($3.5 billion) in what analysts said was a high-priced deal.
The sale process had narrowed to a two-horse race in the last week, but early front runner, Japan's Asahi, had only been prepared to pay up to $3 billion for the business, people close to the deal said.
Molson Coors, whose business is concentrated in the mature markets of the United States, Canada and Britain, expects the deal to add to its earnings in the first full year of ownership and give the brewer its first big business in emerging markets.
The acquisition of StarBev fits squarely into Molson Coors' strategy to increase our portfolio of premium brands and deepen our reach into growth markets around the world, Molson Coors' Chief Executive Peter Swinburn said in a statement.
The deal is valued at around 11 times StarBev's core 2011 profit, or EBITDA, of 241 million euros, from annual sales of around 700 million euros.
We did not think the business in many fragmented markets was worth more than 10 times EBITDA or some $3 billion, so this has to been seen as a high price, said one analyst.
CVC, which bought StarBev in December 2009, put the business up for sale after approaches from a number of brewers thought to include Asahi, Molson Coors, Carlsberg, SABMiller and Heineken.
The private equity firm had bought the business from the world's biggest brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev , calling it StarBev after its Czech beer Staropramen, and although AB InBev had the right of first offer, it showed little interest.
The business has operations in nine eastern European nations including the Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, and although it has been hit by recent weakness in eastern European economies, it is still seen as a long-term growth story in a rapidly consolidating brewing world.
Analysts added this was the last major beer asset likely to come up for sale in central and eastern European, with that market now largely controlled by SABMiller, Heineken, Carlsberg and Molson Coors.
AB InBev sold the business to cut debt after buying Anheuser Busch for $52 billion in cash in 2008 and was seen unlikely to buy back its relatively small positions in a range of markets while its eye is on the sizeable shares it has in key markets such as the United States, Brazil, Russia and China.
The Belgium-based brewer could still earn a good return as when CVC bought StarBev for around $2.2 billion it agreed with AB InBev potential future payments of as much as $800 million based on CVC's return on its investment.
Molson Coors, which brews Molson Canadian, Carling and Coors Light beers, was advised by Morgan Stanley. Nomura was the adviser for StarBev.