By Paul J Davies
Glenmorangie, the last listed independent Scottish distiller, on Tuesday confirmed it was in preliminary talks with a number of parties potentially interested in acquiring the whisky producer, which may or may not result in an offer.
The company said that NM Rothschild, its financial adviser, had been instructed to seek offers for the company after shareholders controlling "in excess of 50 per cent of the voting rights" had expressed a wish to sell their stake.
A person close to the situation told FT.com on Tuesday that a trade buyer rather than any private equity group was most likely to make a bid.
Brown-Forman, the US maker of Jack Daniels bourbon, which distributes Glenmorangie in the Americas, holds a 25 per cent of the company's A shares, which equates to about a 10 per cent stake in terms of voting rights. It is thought to be one of the favourites to take control of the company.
Bacardi-Martini, which distributes the brand in continental Europe, is also thought to be a possible bidder.
The person would not comment on specifics, but said all the global drinks groups and whisky makers would be likely to take a look at Glenmorangie.
The company's statement followed a report in the Times newspaper that members of the Macdonald family, which owns more than half the company, were set to make more than £100m ($181m) from selling their stake in the 111-year-old company.
The report said that analysts valued the company at up to £300m.
Glenmorangie said on Tuesday that the company's controlling shareholders, who are being advised by British Linen Advisers, were fully supportive of the board's process, which aimed to maximise value for all shareholders.
Shares in Glenmorangie, which also makes the Ardbeg and Glen Moray single malt whiskies, are trading at record highs following the group's recent surpassing of Glenfiddich as the UK's best selling malt whisky.
The group has two types of share: the B shares hold greater voting rights and are held mainly by the Macdonalds, which controls just more than 50 per cent of the voting rights. The A shares are more widely held, but have lesser voting rights.
These distribution deals helped the company to lift sales by 6 per cent to £68.8m in the year to March 2004, with a particularly strong rise in its shipments of malt whiskys. The company's three main brands provide 90 per cent of its pre-tax profits, which rose from £8.72m to £9.57m last year.
The Macdonald family acquired the Glenmorangie distillery in 1918, according to the Times, and its stake is spread between about 15 members mainly in a series of trusts.
In early Tuesday trading, the B shares rose more than 13 per cent to £19.12, while the A shares were up more than 18 per cent at £12.50.