* Heineken focus outside Europe is on emerging markets
* Prefers to spend money on Mexico, Brazil, Africa or Asia
* No comment on possible counterbid for Foster’s
* Heineken shares up 0.4 percent at 40.93 euros
(Adds additional comments from interview, updates shares)
By David Jones and Sara Webb
AMSTERDAM, June 21 (Reuters) – The world’s third-largest brewer Heineken appeared to rule out a multi-billion dollar counterbid for Australia’s Foster’s Group as it said growth outside Europe would come from emerging markets.
The Amsterdam-based brewer of its eponymous beer, Amstel and Dos Equis has made recent acquisitions in the emerging markets of Mexico, Nigeria and Ethiopia, and analysts say it shows little interest in the mature beer market of Australia.
“If you look at our expansion strategy, we see Europe as our home base. Europe is to a large extent profitable, but a very mature market, so you see the expansion we do outside Europe will be in emerging markets,” Heineken’s Chief Financial Officer Rene Hooft Graafland told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.
“To do a mature deal completely outside that base is not making sense. Better spend your money on Mexico, Brazil, or Africa or Asian markets,” said the 55-year-old, who has spent the last 30 years at the Dutch brewer.
He declined to comment directly on any bid for Foster’s.
Global beer giant SABMiller launched a cash bid for the Australian brewer valued at A$9.5 billion ($10.1 billion), excluding debt, which Foster’s rejected. Investors predicted Foster’s would succumb to a higher offer.
Analysts said family-controlled Heineken did not have the firepower to mount a counterbid after its joint cash takeover of Scottish & Newcastle (S&N) in 2008 and last year’s all-share acquisition of Mexico’s FEMSA Cerveza.
“S&N made sense because it was predominantly a mature market deal but reinforced our position in Europe with a nice add-on in India, but the biggest part of that acquisition was Europe … reinforcing our leadership in Europe,” Hooft Graafland said.
Heineken shares were up 0.4 percent at 40.93 euros by 1430 GMT while SABMiller was down 3.4 percent at 21.08 pounds compared to a DJ European Food and Beverage index off 0.2 percent.
The group, which brews around a tenth of the world’s beer and ranks behind Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller, is looking at growing emerging markets, cost-cutting — especially in Europe — and bolt-on brewing acquisitions.
Heineken’s three biggest markets are Mexico, Nigeria and Russia, and earns nearly half its profits from emerging markets, diluting its reliance on tough Western Europe beer markets. Heineken is No. 1 in Britain, Italy and the Netherlands.
“The emerging parts will grow faster than the mature markets, so over time you will get more out of emerging markets. At the same time you see the profile of a number of these emerging markets is becoming less risky,” Hooft Graafland said.
He declined to comment on Heineken’s interest in Schincariol, Brazil’s privately owned second-largest brewer, which is reportedly up for sale for $2 billion. The FEMSA deal handed Brazil’s No. 3 brewer Kaiser to Heineken.
“In Brazil, you would look at acquisitions, but there is no necessity to do deals,” Hooft Graafland said.
He added that with group debt down to 8.1 billion euros at end-2010, and free operating cash flow last year of 2 billion euros, there is firepower to do deals if needed.
(Reporting by David Jones; Editing by Sara Webb, Sophie Walker and David Hulmes) ($1=.6162 Pound) (Reporting by Balazs Koranyi)