Asian consortium lifts bid for Australian food manufacturer

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian food manufacturer Goodman Fielder was considering a sweetened bid from an Asian consortium on Friday that values the company at A$1.37 billion (S$1.6 billion) after rejecting an earlier offer.

Goodman Fielder went into a trading halt on Thursday after Singapore-based agribusiness Wilmar International and Hong Kong-based investment manager First Pacific Company lifted their takeover offer from 65 cents a share to 70 cents.

"The company and First Pacific will not increase the price further in the absence of a competing proposal," Wilmar said in a statement.

The board of the Australian firm, which owns food brands including Helga's, MeadowLea and Wonder White, were given until close of business Friday to support the higher bid and open up Goodman Fielder's financial records for inspection.

First Pacific and Wilmar said they had entered into agreements with two of Goodman Fielder's largest shareholders, Ellerston Capital and Perpetual Investments, to buy 4.8 per cent of their stakes.

The two Asian companies already hold a 10.1 per cent share in Goodman Fielder and said they had rights to a further five percent if the new bid was accepted.

Goodman Fielder's management turned down a previous joint bid in April, calling it "opportunistic" and saying it undervalued the food group. The company's share price last traded at 67.2 cents.

The struggling firm recently issued a profit downgrade and brought forward plans to axe 300 jobs in a bid to reduce A$25 million in costs.