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Lion focused on Australia and NZ for growth

By Phil Boeyen, ShareChat Business News Editor

Tuesday 19th December 2000

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Lion Nathan (NZSE: LNN) chairman Douglas Myers has told shareholders that the company is in robust shape with the core brewing businesses in Australasia continuing to provide improved revenue, earnings and cashflow.

"Not only is our core Australasian brewing business growing profitably but we have put in place a number of strategic initiatives which are already delivering returns for shareholders. In fact for the twelve months to yesterday our total return to shareholders in Australian dollars was 24% compared with the overall market return of 4%."

However Mr Myers told the company's AGM that from a financial perspective, China was a disappointment this year and that although the company will continue to improve its operating performance there that alone will not generate the required returns.

"A longer-term solution, involving structural changes to the Chinese beer market, is required and we are actively involved in pursuing options which will see us participate in these changes."

"What is particularly disappointing for us is that when we invested in China five years ago, we saw it as an opportunity to generate strong earnings growth. This no longer appears to be the case so we are now looking for other options that will supplement the growth being generated by our Australasian brewing businesses."

My Myers says the main focus of these activities will be in Australia and New Zealand, and cited the company's investment in Montana as being consistent with global trends where there is a convergence of ownership of wine, beer and liquor brands.

"In addition to wine, we are looking at other growth options, particularly in areas where we can provide additional goods and services to our customers."

Lion currently holds 28% of Montana and while it has Commerce Commission approval to take its stake higher a recent appraisal report valuing the company's shares at well over $4.00 has been tagged 'over ambitious' by Lion.

Mr Myers has also lauded the company's decision to shift to Australia as having an "immediate and dramatic re-rating" of the company's stock.

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