Heileman Brewery A Part of Troubled Alan Bond Empire
MILWAUKEE (AP) _ Analysts paint a bleak future for G. Heileman Brewing Co., the nation’s fifth-largest brewer and a big holding in the troubled empire of Australian industrialist Alan Bond.
Bond has unveiled a complex series of corporate maneuvers, including the planned sale of half his Australian brewery holdings, aimed at dealing with problems posed by the reported $4.6 billion debt he ran up building a brewing, natural resources and media empire.
One of major holding is Heileman, which Bond acquired in 1987 for about $1.3 billion. In announcing his plans on Tuesday, Bond deferred for 12 months any decision to part with Heileman, a sale that analysts said end up being unprofitable.
While the overall beer market has stagnated, Heileman’s share has eroded, falling from a high of 9.4 percent in 1983 to its current 7 percent. Industry observers say Heileman was worth far below $1.3 billion when Bond bought it and will have a hard time fetching that price now.
″You’re not getting anyone to pay $1.3 billion for the breweries,″ said Ben Steinman, associate publisher of Beer Marketer’s Insights, an industry newsletter.
″The question is whether you operate it and bleed a little or take a big hit and move on,″ said John Collopy, an industry analyst and chairman of the Milwaukee investment firm Cleary Gull Reiland McDevitt & Collopy Inc.
Analysts point out that sales for Heileman - whose brands include Old Style, Lone Star, Special Export and Colt 45 malt liquor - started to slip before Bond acquired it, but that former Chairman Russell Cleary had been able to keep the company efficient and profitable.
″His helmsmanship helped hold it together better than anyone could,″ said Collopy. ″When you lose that, the underlying softness got exaggerated.″
Cleary, who built the company into a national power through a series of acquisitions, says he is discouraged by the troubles Heileman has encountered since the Bond buyout.
″It’s unfortunate,″ Cleary said in a telephone interview Wednesday from La Crosse, where Heileman is based. ″I certainly hope they get their act straightened out for the sake of the employees.″
Cleary, who resigned as Heileman chairman and chief executive in January, said he would not speculate on whether Heileman might be sold, but has statd in the past that he was not interested in returning to the beer business.
A spokesman for Heileman referred calls to Bond’s headquarters in Australia, but officials there could not be reached for comment.
″It’s a tough business and he has an enormous amount of debt,″ Cleary said. ″We didn’t have that debt.″
On Tuesday, Bond announced he was selling half his brewery empire to New Zealand’s Lion Nathan Ltd., for more than $760 million.
Under the transaction, Lion Nathan will buy a 50 percent interest in and management of Bond Corp.’s Swan, Tooheys and Castlemaine breweries in Australia, and the group’s hotel and associated liquor interests.
Bond said the brewery deal was ″another positive step in the restructuring and strategic refocusing″ of his group. He said it would create a ″formidable brewing alliance″ in the region, aimed at the Pacific as well as Asia.
Under the proposal, the brewing assets will be folded into a new joint venture company, Australian Breweries Pty. Ltd., equally owned by Bond Corp. and Lion Nathan.
In other developments Tuesday, Bond Corp. agreed to sell its 67.7 percent interest in the Harriet oil field off the northwestern coast of Australia. The decision followed one last week that saw Bond Corp. bailing out of its 20.4 percent stake in British conglomerate Lonrho PLC for $490 million.