Berry Global gets until March 13 to decide on takeover of packager RPC

(Reuters) – UK’s takeover panel said on Tuesday that plastics maker Berry Global Group now has until March 13 to announce a firm intention to make an offer for British packager RPC Group.

Berry Global said last month it was considering a cash offer for RPC, in a challenge to a 3.3 billion pound ($4.3 billion) bid from the U.S. company’s former parent, Apollo Global.

RPC, Europe’s biggest plastic packaging company, said on Tuesday it continues to engage with Berry, but did provide any further details.

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Altria now taps U.S. bond market after Europe to fund Juul deal

(Reuters) – Marlboro maker Altria said on Tuesday it would issue bonds in the United States to help fund its purchase of a stake in fast-growing e-cigarette company Juul, a day after announcing a similar move in the European bond market.

The Richmond, Virginia-based tobacco company will issue the U.S. bonds in six tranches in denominations of $2,000 as it looks to pre-pay a term loan arranged by JPMorgan Chase, Altria said in a regulatory filing.

Altria said in December it was using a nearly $15 billion term-loan facility with JPMorgan to finance the $12.8 billion price tag for a 35 percent stake in Juul Labs Inc. The loan matures in December this year.

The money being raised will support Altria’s purchase of Juul as well as Canadian cannabis producer Cronos Group, which it announced in December.

Its European bond issue is expected to raise 4.25 billion euros ($4.80 billion) in a four-part sale.

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Apollo Global to acquire RPC for 3.3 billion pounds

(Reuters) – RPC Group (RPC.L) said on Wednesday Apollo Global Management agreed to buy Europe’s biggest plastics packaging maker for 3.3 billion pounds ($4.28 billion) in cash, ending months of negotiations.

The per-share offer of 782 pence represents a premium of 15.6 percent to RPC’s closing price of 683.6 pence on Sept. 7, the last trading day before the offer period began.

Private equity has been attracted to the sector’s reliable cashflow and growing demand from online shopping, with a spate of takeovers by bigger packaging players further spurring their interest.

RPC said the company’s directors intend to recommend the deal to its shareholders.

The company was also in talks on a possible sale to Bain Capital since September, but ended talks with the U.S. private equity firm in December.

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Macquarie raises $5 billion for North America infrastructure fund

(Reuters) – The investment arm of Australia’s Macquarie Group Ltd (MQG.AX) said on Thursday it has raised $5 billion for its latest fund to invest in infrastructure in North America.

The fundraising underscores the private sector’s appetite to invest in U.S. infrastructure, which runs the gamut from toll roads to airports to oil fields, amid a dearth of federal and state infrastructure funding for many projects.

Private equity fund managers raised a record $85 billion in 2018 for infrastructure, with more than half coming from funds raised with a focus on North America, data from Preqin, an industry tracker, showed. Globally, the amount of money raised but not yet invested hit a record $172 billion last year.

Blackstone Group LP (BX.N) reached a first close last year of $5 billion for its new infrastructure fund and is aiming eventually to raise up to $40 billion. Major infrastructure investors Brookfield Asset Management (BAMa.TO) and Global Infrastructure Partners are also raising new funds.

While there were hopes that political consensus would emerge in the United States for more federal spending in infrastructure, this has not yet come to pass.

Democrats last year indicated a willingness to work with U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration on an infrastructure investment program. This would follow a plan by Trump unveiled in 2017 designed to encourage spending on improvements by states, localities and private investors, which was widely panned for offering no new direct federal spending and never got a vote in Congress.

“To the extent that there are government privatizations in areas where there’s been historically few, we would certainly review those opportunities,” Macquarie Infrastructure Partners Chief Executive Karl Kuchel said in an interview.

“But there is already a large and deep private sector infrastructure investment opportunity set in North America and there always has been.”

Investment is needed, with America $1.44 trillion short of what it needs to spend on infrastructure through the next decade, according to a 2016 report by The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

The new Macquarie fund, Macquarie Infrastructure Partners IV, will primarily focus on the United States and Canada.

It will follow the same strategy as its predecessor fund, which closed in 2014, to invest in energy, transportation, waste and communications infrastructure but dependant on where the strength of the U.S. economy is, Kuchel said.

“The difference between fund III and fund IV is the expectation of where we are in the economic cycle. With fund III we had recently come out of the global financial crisis. Now, it’s reasonable to expect we’re close to the end of this economic cycle,” he said.

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Irish citizen held by group fighting IS

An Irish citizen has been captured in Syria by militias fighting against the group calling itself Islamic State, according to Irish broadcaster RTÉ.

RTÉ reported that the man, aged 45, was originally from Belarus, but holds an Irish passport.

He is believed to have lived and worked in Ireland for a number of years and left for the Middle East in 2013.

Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar said he was aware of the situation.

Speaking in Mali, Mr Varadkar said: “I’ve only heard about that in the last short while.

“The information we have is that an Irish citizen has been taken into custody in Syria.

“We don’t know the details of that so I can’t comment on it in any detail, but what I can say is that any Irish citizen around the world is entitled to consular assistance and will get that.”

Gardaí have said the man was known to them in the context of the monitoring of individuals sympathetic to radical causes.

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs has said no requests for consular assistance on behalf of an Irish citizen captured in Syria have been made to it.

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Noble Group completes debt restructuring to emerge as smaller, unlisted firm

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Noble Group (NOBG.SI), the once mighty commodity trader, on Thursday completed its drawn out $3.5 billion debt restructuring to emerge as a smaller and unlisted Asia-focused coal-trading business.

“The completion of the company’s restructuring allows the company’s business to move forward under its new holding company, Noble Group Holdings Ltd,” the company said in a statement to the Singapore Exchange (SGX).

Noble’s debt-for-equity restructuring plan has been in the works for nearly two years but was thrown into disarray after Singapore authorities said last month they were investigating the company.

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Danish pension giant puts new investments with Macquarie on hold

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Denmark’s largest pension fund ATP said on Wednesday it had put new investments with Macquarie Group (MQG.AX) on hold pending an investigation of the Australian company’s involvement in a dividend stripping scandal.

ATP and two other Danish pension funds earlier this year partnered with Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets (MIRA), the world’s largest infrastructure asset manager, to buy Danish cable and telecoms operator TDC in a $6.6 billion deal.

Macquarie said in September its incoming and outgoing chief executives were expected to be named as suspects by German prosecutors after its bank lent money to investment funds that engaged in dividend stripping.

“Had ATP been aware of the circumstances in question, ATP would not have made the investment in TDC with MIRA,” the pension fund said in a written statement to the ministry of employment published on Wednesday. ATP said it expected the investigation into dividend stripping to take several years.

Macquarie has said it had believed the practice to be legal, and that it was not involved in any such activity in Denmark. It was not immediately available for comment on Wednesday.

“ATP has initiated a critical dialogue with Macquarie, and ATP will not make new investments with MIRA or any other companies in the Macquarie Group before this critical dialogue and “self-cleaning” process has been completed satisfactorily,” the pension fund said.

ATP is Europe’s fourth largest pension fund with around $120 billion of assets under management and handles mandatory pensions for more than 5 million Danes.

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U.S. fund Castlelake to buy planes from AirAsia in $800 million deal: sources

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – U.S. private investment firm Castlelake LP has struck a deal to buy a portfolio of about 30 narrowbody planes from AirAsia Group Bhd (AIRA.KL) for a total price of roughly $800 million, people familiar with the transaction said.

The deal underscores the strong appetite of funds to invest in the global aircraft leasing sector, which is benefiting from growing demand on the back of a rise in low-cost carriers and passenger traffic.

For AirAsia, the deal marks another move to monetize its assets as Asia’s biggest budget airline seeks to transform itself into an asset-light, digitally focused firm. The carrier is cashing in on a booming leasing sector after ordering hundreds of Airbus SE (AIR.PA) planes at bargain prices in recent years to become one of Airbus’ biggest customers.

Castlelake, a global fund focused on alternative investments, has been stepping up its exposure to aviation assets. In June last year, it raised $1 billion from investors including family offices, sovereign wealth funds, endowments and pension funds.

“Castlelake is growing at a fast pace and looking to buy aviation assets,” said one of the people. “This is one of their biggest deals in Asia with one airline.”

Castlelake clinched the deal from Malaysia’s AirAsia after edging out U.S. lessors, funds and leasing units of major Chinese banks in a tightly contested deal, said the people, who did not wish to be identified as they were not authorized to speak publicly about the transaction.

Castlelake and AirAsia are expected to close the deal in the next few weeks, the people said.

Castlelake and AirAsia declined comment.

Earlier this year, AirAsia agreed to sell part of its aircraft leasing portfolio in a staggered deal for $1.2 billion to firms managed by BBAM Ltd, one of the world’s largest aircraft portfolio managers.

Castlelake is buying older aircraft which are under lease to AirAsia’s affiliated airlines, the people said. AirAsia’s leasing subsidiary, Asia Aviation Capital, manages AirAsia’s planes.

“This is an upcoming sector for asset managers. They see an opportunity to buy older aircraft and sell them once the lease expires,” said another person familiar with the transaction.

Castlelake was ranked as the 32nd biggest lessor with the value of its total fleet estimated at $2.1 billion in consultancy FlightGlobal’s ranking of top global lessors as of September 2018.

Chinese bank-owned leasing units and the likes of U.S. listed AerCap Holdings NV (AER.N) and General Electric Co’s (GE.N) GE Capital Aviation Services dominate the leasing industry, but the share of asset managers and funds is gradually rising.

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U.S. fund Castlelake to buy planes from AirAsia in $800 million deal: sources

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – U.S. private investment firm Castlelake LP has struck a deal to buy a portfolio of about 30 narrowbody planes from AirAsia Group Bhd (AIRA.KL) for a total price of roughly $800 million, people familiar with the transaction said.

The deal underscores the strong appetite of funds to invest in the global aircraft leasing sector, which is benefiting from growing demand on the back of a rise in low-cost carriers and passenger traffic.

For AirAsia, the deal marks another move to monetize its assets as Asia’s biggest budget airline seeks to transform itself into an asset-light, digitally focused firm. The carrier is cashing in on a booming leasing sector after ordering hundreds of Airbus SE (AIR.PA) planes at bargain prices in recent years to become one of Airbus’ biggest customers.

Castlelake, a global fund focused on alternative investments, has been stepping up its exposure to aviation assets. In June last year, it raised $1 billion from investors including family offices, sovereign wealth funds, endowments and pension funds.

“Castlelake is growing at a fast pace and looking to buy aviation assets,” said one of the people. “This is one of their biggest deals in Asia with one airline.”

Castlelake clinched the deal from Malaysia’s AirAsia after edging out U.S. lessors, funds and leasing units of major Chinese banks in a tightly contested deal, said the people, who did not wish to be identified as they were not authorized to speak publicly about the transaction.

Castlelake and AirAsia are expected to close the deal in the next few weeks, the people said.

Castlelake and AirAsia declined comment.

Earlier this year, AirAsia agreed to sell part of its aircraft leasing portfolio in a staggered deal for $1.2 billion to firms managed by BBAM Ltd, one of the world’s largest aircraft portfolio managers.

Castlelake is buying older aircraft which are under lease to AirAsia’s affiliated airlines, the people said. AirAsia’s leasing subsidiary, Asia Aviation Capital, manages AirAsia’s planes.

“This is an upcoming sector for asset managers. They see an opportunity to buy older aircraft and sell them once the lease expires,” said another person familiar with the transaction.

Castlelake was ranked as the 32nd biggest lessor with the value of its total fleet estimated at $2.1 billion in consultancy FlightGlobal’s ranking of top global lessors as of September 2018.

Chinese bank-owned leasing units and the likes of U.S. listed AerCap Holdings NV (AER.N) and General Electric Co’s (GE.N) GE Capital Aviation Services dominate the leasing industry, but the share of asset managers and funds is gradually rising.

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New Zealand's Trade Me gets second, higher buyout offer for $1.8 billion

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand’s top online marketplace Trade Me Group (TME.NZ) said it has received a NZ$2.56 billion ($1.8 billion) buyout proposal from a U.S. private-equity firm, trumping a rival offer and setting the stage for a possible bidding war.

The offer adds to a flurry of deals made this year in Australia and New Zealand – attractive for private-equity firms given their stable and advanced economies that offer a steady cash flow amid a global financial market rout. [MKTS/GLOB]

California-based Hellman & Friedman offered NZ$6.45 per share for Trade Me, or NZ$0.05 higher than an offer London-based private equity group Apax Partners made last month.

Shares of Trade Me, similar to auction website eBay Inc (EBAY.O), rose 3 percent on the news to a record of NZ$6.25 on Wednesday, just short of the indicative offer price, as investors allowed for uncertainty that a sale would go through.

“It validates our thesis that the company was being undervalued given its very low gearing and its cash generative nature,” said Mark Brown, chief investment officer at Auckland-based fund Devon Funds Management that owns shares in Trade Me.

“It has a dominant position within the NZ market. You can buy a dominant player in a smaller market, but it’s clearly more difficult to buy a dominant player in a global or much bigger market,” Brown added.

Launched in 1999 with 15 staff, Trade Me now has more than 600 employees and says it has the most customers among online classified advertising platforms in New Zealand.

The website offers auctions and fixed-priced sales for cars, real estate and other household items. It also has jobs and online dating services.

Trade Me said it would open its books for the U.S. bidder to conduct due diligence, as it has done for the U.K. bidder Apax. Apax was not immediately available for comment.

“These kind of distribution companies like Trade Me don’t require a lot of capital investment and don’t require (much) working capital so they’re very attractive … for private equity firms,” said Brian Gaynor, head of Auckland-based Milford Asset, which holds Trade Me shares.

Among other deals by private-equity firms in Australia and New Zealand this year, Canadian landlord Oxford Properties Group made a $2.4 billion offer for Investa Office Fund (IOF.AX), beating private equity giant Blackstone Group (BX.N).

Restaurant Brands New Zealand Ltd (RBD.NZ), operator of KFC and Pizza Hut franchises, said in October it was in takeover talks with Mexico-based Finaccess Capital that made a $578 million bid for a controlling stake.

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