FRASER and Neave has reported lower profits and sales for the first nine months of its fiscal year, as reports suggest ThaiBev may have upped its stake in the dairy and drinks group.

For the nine months to the end of June, F&N reported net sales down by 4.5% to SGD4bn (US$3.2bn). Profits after tax fell by around 22% on the same period of last year, to SGD554m, while operating profits fell by 9% to SGD654m.

F&N said that the headline figures disguised underlying strength in its business. Profits, it said, were made to look weaker by a one-off gain boosting earnings in the previous year. Excluding exceptional items, nine-month net profits dipped by 5%.

There were some positives in the group’s dairy division, which saw profits in the third quarter rise by 12% to SGD15m. Dairies Thailand posted record quarterly revenue in the final three months of the reporting period, F&N added.

However, the results come almost as a sideshow to a brewing battle for F&N’s 40% stake in the Asia Pacific Breweries beer joint-venture with Heineken, and potentially for F&N itself.

There was speculation among analysts today (10 August) that ThaiBev has upped its stake in F&N by around two percentage points, to 24%. F&N’s board has agreed to sell the Asia Pacific Breweries stake to Heineken for SGD50 per share, but the deal must still go to a shareholder vote and ThaiBev may seek to block it or, at the least, raise the price.

The news follows F&N’s confirmation that a company reportedly owned by the son-in-law of ThaiBev’s owner, Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, has bought 7.26% of Asia Pacific Breweries (APB).

The other party in the equation is Kirin Holdings, which owns around 15% of F&N. Its intentions remain unclear, although Kirin‘s president, Senji Miyake, was quoted last week as saying that the firm is not interested in APB.

For its fiscal third-quarter, F&N saw net profits fall by 16% to SGD185m, but net sales increased by 4.4% to SGD1.4bn. Operating profits increased by 1% to SGD226m.