Shares of Nabisco Group Holdings Corp. rose 2.6 percent Friday after a published report said R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc. is considering bidding for the successor to its former parent company.
Nabisco Group, which owns 80.6 percent of the company that makes Ritz crackers and Oreo cookies, put itself and its investment in the snack business up for sale last month after shareholder Carl Icahn said he was prepared to boost his stake.
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Reynolds Tobacco is discussing making a bid for Nabisco Group. It cited unidentified people familiar with the matter.
Reynolds Tobacco spokeswoman Maura Payne said the company had no comment on the report. The investment bankers handling the Nabisco Group sale failed to return phone calls, and Nabisco Group spokesman Henry Sandbach declined comment.
Icahn said in March he was prepared to pay $13 a share to boost his stake in Nabisco Group to about 40 percent from 9.5 percent.
Nabisco Group rejected that offer and said it would review all its options, including selling itself or its controlling stake in Nabisco Holdings Corp., the food company that also makes Planters nuts, Life Savers candy and Chips Ahoy cookies.
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Icahn then said he was prepared to pay $16 a share for all of Nabisco Group but later agreed to participate in the bidding process for the company in exchange for getting a chance to review its financial books.
In trading Friday on the New York Stock Exchange, Nabisco Group shares rose 43 3/4 cents to $17.06 1/4.
Nabisco Group is the successor to RJR Nabisco Holdings, which spun off Reynolds Tobacco last year as legal challenges mounted to the cigarette industry. That left it with the controlling interest in Nabisco Holdings as its only asset.
But Nabisco Group shares have been trading well below the price that would be implied from owning more than 80 percent of Nabisco Holdings. In fact, Nabisco Group’s total market capitalization has been less than half of that for Nabisco Holdings.
The lower valuation, analysts say, is because of worries that those who may win legal judgments against Reynolds Tobacco may go after the assets of its former parent should Reynolds be unable to pay.
The Journal said Reynolds Tobacco doesn’t want to get back into the food business for the long term. It said Reynolds could buy the holding company and then sell the stake in the food company and pocket the difference.
Martin Feldman, a tobacco analyst for Salomon Smith Barney, said in a report Thursday that Reynolds would be the ideal bidder for Nabisco Group once the food holdings are sold.
Feldman said Nabisco Group would be flush with cash after selling the food stake but its stock would continue to carry the taint of tobacco ownership. He added that Reynolds would not be increasing its liability by acquiring Nabisco Group at that point while other bidders presumably would have to deduct that risk in making their bids.
Other possible bidders could include other tobacco makers such as Philip Morris Cos., which also owns Kraft Foods.