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French luxury goods business presses fight against Guinness, GrandMet deal

May 29, 1997

LONDON (AP) _ LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton says if it can’t join them, it will beat them.

The champagne and luxury goods company on Wednesday threatened a takeover of a liquor distribution partnership with Guinness PLC because it was left out of a bigger merger.

The French group said that if it can’t participate in a wine and spirits group with Guinness and Grand Metropolitan PLC, it will bust up an earlier deal with Guinness.

Guinness and GrandMet agreed earlier this month to merge, after rejecting LVMH’s offer for a three-way deal.

Paris-based LVMH set up a broad liquor distribution partnership with Guinness in 1994, in a deal that allows either party to get out under favorable terms if the other is acquired.

LVMH said the proposed merger between Guinness and GrandMet _ creating a $34 billion group called GMG Brands _ constitutes a change in corporate control. Guinness disagrees.

``They say we have been taken over, which is not true,″ Guinness spokesman Murray Loake said.

Loake said the deal is about as equal as a merger can be, although Guinness is technically buying out GrandMet in a stock swap.

LVMH put Guinness on notice it will exercise its options to exit the earlier deal _ though it would still be open to discussing a three-way merger of all the companies’ wine and spirits businesses.

LVMH said under its interpretation of its deal with Guinness it will be able to buy out all the assets of the joint venture without paying any type of premium. And it will repurchase Guinness’ 34 percent interest in the drink business Moet-Hennessy at a discount.

Reports in London suggested that LVMH’s threat is carried out, it could cost Guinness up to $1.6 billion.

LVMH also said it will be able to continue to market Guinness’ brands for another decade in the United States, France and big Asian markets including China, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Guinness would not discuss the LVMH claims, which it contends are invalid.

Before Guinness and GrandMet agreed on their merger, they had rejected the offer from LVMH, which would have formed the world’s biggest wine and spirits company.

Guinness and GrandMet said they would prefer to blend their own liquor businesses _ including Guinness’ beer brands such as Guinness stout _ with GrandMet’s foods companies, including the Burger King restaurant chain and Old El Paso Mexican foods.

The LVMH proposal would have left out the Guinness beers.

LVMH is the world’s largest luxury goods company, with brands that include Dom Perignon, Moet and Chandon, Veuve Clicquot and Pommery champagnes; Louis Vuitton luggage; and Christian Dior, Givenchy, Kenzo and Guerlain perfumes.

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