U.S. antitrust authorities could give the green light to an Anglo-French bid for Seagram's drinks portfolio as soon as today, an industry source said on Monday.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission recently moved to block the Seagram acquisition by France's Pernod Ricard and industry leader Diageo on concerns Diageo would be accumulating too many rum brands in the United States.
Diageo already owns coconut flavoured rum Malibu and would acquire Captain Morgan from Seagram, making it the second largest rum supplier in the United States after Bacardi.
However, Pernod Chairman Patrick Ricard said on Friday that Diageo had undertaken to sell Malibu, probably within six months, in order to satisfy U.S. authorities.
"The FTC has a meeting today. It's not certain that today something will be said in public, but it is perhaps then that they will say officially that they agree under those terms," the industry source said.Otherwise, a statement could come from the FTC in the next few days, the source added.
European and Canadian authorities have already approved the acquisition.
The FTC is worried that Diageo and unlisted Bacardi would produce a duopoly on the U.S. rum market. French business daily Les Echos said the U.S. authorities had effectively given the Anglo-French team until Monday to find an exit before starting legal proceedings.
A deal has to be concluded by December 31 to meet an undertaking by Seagram's owner Vivendi Universal to its shareholders. Vivendi needs the cash to reduce its debt.
Ricard told a Paris stock market conference on Friday that FTC agreement could come "immediately," and that Diageo had agreed to sell Malibu within a timeframe that could be six months. Pernod was prepared to buy Malibu from Diageo should that help win the FTC's blessing, he added.
However other groups, including U.S. firm Brown-Forman, number two player Allied Domecq and Maxxium -- a joint venture between Remy Cointreau RCOP.PA, Highland Distillers and Jim Beam -- are also believed to be interested in the rum maker, valued at between $800 million (907 million euros) and $1 billion (1.13 billion euros).
Pernod and Diageo were both trading on Monday off 0.07 per cent, at 75.95 euros and 754.5 pence respectively at 1233 GMT, while the Dow Jones Stoxx European Food and Beverage index was off 0.21 per cent.