In the past five years, analysts have speculated that the company could be taken over, potentially by Britvic, but no immediate approaches are expected.
Research analyst Damian McNeela of Panmure Gordon & Co said: “AG Barr has a historically large premium on UK peers such as Nichols and Britvic. Normally, in a company with low earnings and moderate outlook, a premium on EV/EBITDA [enterprise value compared with earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization] would indicate a sale. This is a well-run company with more growth to go for and a good track record of innovation and could be taken out.”
However, the soft drinks sector was not known for screaming with mergers and acquisition activity, he said.
“You have Britvic and CCE [Coca Cola Enterprises], which have about 70% market share between them. People tend to address deficiencies in their portfolio by licensing in. Energy and stimulant drinks are hot areas at the moment - take Britvic with Mountain Dew and AG Barr with Rockstar.”
Meanwhile, Phil Carroll of analysts Shore Capital said that he was a buyer of Nicols, which owns brands such as Sunkist and Panda and a seller of AG Barr. The premium on the Barr share price “was a bit of a strange one”.
He said: “It probably comes down to a very loyal sales base and a good long-term track record but, then again, Nichols’ management team has been in place since 2003 and runs a very strong business.”
He suggested that Barr, Nichols and Britvic could all be seen as potential takeover targets, Britvic perhaps by PepsiCo.
“A key difference between AG Barr and Nichols is that Nichols outsources production, but I don’t know if a buyer would see this as a disadvantage,” he added.
Meanwhile, Julian Wild, food group director at Rollits said that the AG Barr share price probably simply reflected that AG Barr was a good strong business.
AG Barr will release its interim results on Tuesday September 27. Analysts are concerned that poor summer weather, among other factors, may have affected performance.
Carroll commented: “Factors such as the poor summer and input cost inflation mean that there is a possibility of a small downgrade.”
In a research note, McNeela said that operating profit margins are expected to be lower reflecting ongoing brand investment and increased distribution of core brands such as IRN-BRU and Rubicon.
Panmure Gordon is forecasting adjusted operating profit growth of 1% to £16.9M.