Saputo lifts WCB stake

Suitor's holding increases as United Dairy Power CEO backs takeover bid.

Canadian suitor Saputo Inc has again increased its stake in Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory (WCB), cementing its standing as the biggest shareholder in the western Victorian dairy producer.

In a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange, Warrnambool said Saputo had increased its stake to 26.445%, from 21.392%.

Last week Saputo increased its stake twice, first to 20.141% and subsequently to 21.392%.

The increases came as Saputo confirmed it would extend its $9 a share, or $504 million, takeover offer for Warrnambool.

Saputo said it had extended the offer period  to close at 1900 AEDT on January 22.

The news comes after The Australian Financial Review reported United Dairy Power, Australia's largest privately owned milk processor, had thrown its support behind Saputo's takeover bid for Warrnambool.

According to the newspaper, UDP's chief executive officer Tony Esposito said the Australian dairy industry stood to benefit from from foreign ownership, dismissing rival Warrnambool bidder Murray Goulburn’s claims that dairy farmers would be better off under a co-operative structure.

"We have to be mindful here of what’s happening. We’ve been watching retirements out of the industry and watching co-ops go broke or sell out like Bonlac, Tatura and Dairy Farmers," Mr Esposito told the AFR.

"The consistency there is farmer-owned co-operatives. They’re not focused and have bad business plans; corporate companies grow," Mr Esposito says.