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The Deal: Suntory Seen Near $1.6B GSK Drinks Deal

LONDON ( The Deal) -- Suntory Holdings' recently listed Suntory Beverage & Food is widely reported to be close to buying the Ribena and Lucozade drinks brands put up for sale by the U.K.'s GlaxoSmithKline (GSK - Get Report) in April.

The purchase, for an estimated 1 billion pounds ($1.6 billion), would mark a major push into Britain for the Japanese company, which became a significant force in Europe with its acquisition of France's Orangina from Blackstone Group (BX) and Lion Capital (LCHL) in 2009 for 300 billion yen ($3.01 billion).

In June, Suntory Beverage raised 388 billion yen in an initial public offering, with proceeds earmarked for a planned 500 billion yen acquisition drive as it seeks to double sales to 2 trillion yen by 2020 through overseas expansion.

The blackcurrant-flavored Ribena and Lucozade, a glaring-orange glucose drink, occupy a similar place in Britons' cultural consciousness to Orangina soda for the French. Lucozade, traditionally used as a pick-me-up during illness, has recently been chasing the sports and exercise drinks market. Pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline's April decision to sell the brands was a long time in the making. The British company at the same time also hived off around 50 older, or "tail," drugs brands with 2012 revenue of about 3 billion pounds into a separate unit which could be sold.

Beyond expanding Suntory's global empire and distribution reach, the deal should also reassure those who worry that the voracious appetite among Japanese companies for outbound acquisitions is diminishing because of the yen's retreat from historic highs. Yet Japan's banks have been active acquirers this year, particularly in Southeast Asia, and, only on Thursday, Otsuka Pharmaceutical agreed to pay $886 million for Dublin, Calif.-based Astex Pharmaceuticals.

Dealogic figures show that Japanese companies struck 416 outbound deals in the year to Sept. 6, down from 513 in the year-earlier period. The value of Japanese outbound acquisitions in the year to date was $27.8 billion, down from $56.8 billion in the corresponding 2012 period, when the year started with several big-ticket transactions. The value of outbound deals by Japanese banks in 2013 to date more than doubled year-on-year to $7.6 billion, Dealogic figures show. Separate figures from law firm Allen & Overy LLP found that Japan was the No. 6 outbound acquirer in the first half.

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