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Absolut-ly French, Absolut-ly Expensive

A votre sante, tamejfan!

The auction for the Swedish government's liquor operations is over. AB Vin & Sprit, which includes the premium vodka brand Absolut, goes to ... not the reported frontrunner, Fortune Brands (NYSE: FO  ) . Good for Fortune. By not dropping out early, as Diageo (NYSE: DEO  ) did in February, Fortune may have forced the winner to overpay.

The American alcohol ace did place a bid on the state-run brewer and bottler, but French rival Pernod Ricard (OTC BB: PDRDF.PK) reportedly beat all comers. Pernod offered an attractive deal structure, and paid a hefty price exceeding the market's estimated $6 billion to $7 billion, to walk away with the 80-proof prize.

The final purchase price was 5.6 billion euros, or $8.8 billion, meaning that Pernod was willing to pony up quite a premium over other bids. The francaises left their 10% stake of equity holdings in Fortune subsidiary Beam Global for the Swedish government to sell. Fortune Brands announced that it will purchase those holdings, giving the company full ownership of Beam Global. 

Mats Odell, Sweden's minister of local government and financial markets, was impressed by Pernod's financial backing in these "shaky" economic times. The capital comes from a six-bank coalition, led by deal advisor JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) .

With the deal in place, Fortune Brands will use the money it had set aside to buy Vin & Sprit for a share repurchase program instead, to the tune of 15 million stubs. That includes its $885 million windfall from selling most of Fortune's wine operations to Constellation Brands (NYSE: STZ  ) last fall.

Absolut enlarges Pernod's American footprint and fits in very well with premium spirits in the company's portfolio, including Jameson and Chivas Regal whiskeys and Beefeater gin. Time will tell whether Pernod or the Swedes got the better end of this deal.

The consolidation in the wine and liquor industry continues, and the sector is running low on independent premium brands. This acquisition is a big deal, about equal to Brown-Forman's (NYSE: BF-B  ) $8.9 billion enterprise value. So who's next? Stay tuned.

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