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News Briefs for February 20, 2014

February 20, 2014

Beam Inc. has set a special shareholder meeting on March 25 to vote on the company’s $16 billion acquisition by Suntory Ltd. The proposed deal has been unanimously approved by both companies’ boards. Meanwhile, activist investor Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square group has offloaded a further 1.85 million shares of Beam worth $154 million. This latest sale follows Ackman’s sale of 7.3 million shares of Beam for more than $600 million in late January. These moves have reduced Ackman’s stake in Beam from around 12.7% to 7.1%. In other Beam news, the group’s request to dismiss a suit brought against it by Sidney Frank Importing Co. (SFIC) has been denied by a federal judge in New York. The $100 million suit, filed by SFIC last March, charges Beam with breach of contract related to a supply deal for SFIC’s Michael Collins Irish whiskey. Beam acquired Ireland’s Cooley Distillery, producer of Michael Collins, in 2012, and subsequently ceased supplying SFIC.

•Diageo will invest an initial $2 million in a restoration project at Louisville’s legendary Stitzel-Weller Distillery. The initiative, including a renovation of the original administration building and development of a new visitor center, welcome center and gift shop, will commence immediately and is expected to be completed this summer. The project is intended to “bring to life the history of the Stitzel-Weller Distillery,” showcasing artifacts from the site’s archives; a whiskey education section; an homage to the people, land and water of Kentucky; and a celebration of the heritage, brands and people behind Diageo’s collection of American whiskies. Opened in 1935, Stitzel-Weller currently stores and rests barrels of various whiskies in the Diageo portfolio, though it hasn’t been a functioning distillery since 1992.

•Exports of Rioja wine to the U.S. rose 18% last year to hit 10.47 million liters, according to the Consejo Regulador de Rioja. The increase came as Rioja’s wine volumes rebounded both domestically and globally in 2013 to record highs. Rioja’s global volumes last year increased 4% to 277 million liters, surpassing the previous annual record in 2007 of 271 million liters. Domestic volumes were up 3% to 175 million liters, representing Rioja’s first domestic rise since 2008. However, Rioja’s volume to China fell 2.5% to 2.36 million liters after four years of marked growth.

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