Diageo mulls upping stake in Indian United Spirits

Diageo Plc is weighing raising its majority stake in Indian spirits maker United Spirits Ltd (USL), according to people familiar with the matter. USL is the maker of McDowell’s No. 1 whiskey, Signature whiskey, Romanov vodka, among other spirit brands.

Diageo is said to be considering an open offer to other shareholders in United Spirits, according to people, who do not want to be identified because the matter is private.

The London listed company already controls 55% of USL, which has a market value of $4.7bn, according to Bloomberg data. However, Diageo has not made a final decision to acquire more shares and may decide against it, they said.

India is considered the world’s largest whiskey market by volume and the deal would allow Diageo to strengthen its market share in the country where it already leads with 37.7% to Pernod Ricard’s 13.2% and Allied Blender & Distillers 11.6%. It would also enable the Johnny Walker maker push its other brands such as Smirnoff vodka and Guinness beer through USL’s established and wide distribution network.

Diageo has been considering increasing its stake for several months, according to sources. A 22% share decline in United Spirits in the last 12 months made the move more attractive for the British spirits maker.

According to Indian stock market rules, Diageo could raise its stake in USL to just under 75% without triggering a delisting offer. A 20% stake in USL is currently worth $940m, according to Bloomberg.

Diageo first acquired a stake in United Spirits in 2012. In 2014, it increased its ownership by 26% giving it a 54.8% majority control. In September of the same year, it opened an audit of USL books and discovered that the former chairman Vijay Mallya had been diverting funds away from the company to other entities under his control. The two sides fell out but later reached an agreement whereby Mallya was to resign from the company with a promise not to compete or interfere in the company’s affairs for a period of five years in exchange for $75m.

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