Sweet Ending? Kraft Could Pay $19 Billion for Candy Maker Cadbury

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Shareholders in British candy maker Cadbury are looking for a fat increase in the hostile takeover bid by Kraft Foods (KFT), as Kraft faces a Tuesday deadline for changes to its bid. Cadbury shares moved above 800 pence in Monday trading in the United Kingdom, indicating the market was looking for Kraft to jump to that level or higher. Kraft's 10.5 billion pounds ($17.1 billion) offer now values the British chocolate and gum company at about 770 pence, an offer which Cadbury dismisses as "derisory."The Wall Street Journal reported late Monday that Kraft was closing in on a deal to buy Cadbury for as much as $19 billion. The newspaper cited people it do not identify that it said are familiar with the deal. It said the companies were in talks that could lead to a friendly deal announcement Tuesday morning.

The BBC also reported Monday evening, without citing sources, that Kraft may raise its offer to between 840 pence and 850 pence a share. The BBC added that Cadbury may accept the revised offer.

Telephone calls to Cadbury were not answered. Kraft did not immediately have a comment.

David Cumming, head of U.K. equities at Cadbury shareholder Standard Life, said Monday that Kraft needs to aim above 900 pence to secure support from long-term shareholders.

Some analysts believe Cadbury could be had for 820 pence or maybe 850 pence, but Cumming said "that would not secure support from companies like ourselves."

Standard Life holds about 1 percent of Cadbury shares.

If Kraft wants to raise its bid, it has until midnight Tuesday (7 p.m. EST) to do so. The Hershey Co.(HSY), which reportedly is working on a possible bid, has until Saturday under U.K. takeover rules.

Kraft, the maker of Oreo cookies and Velveeta, has already sweetened its offer with an option for a larger cash payout and a smaller proportion of Kraft shares. Kraft raise extra cash early this month by selling its North America pizza operations, including Tombstone and DiGiorno, for $3.7 billion to Nestle, which then ruled itself out of any bid for Cadbury.

Kraft's CEO Irene Rosenfeld was in London last week meeting institutional shareholders seeking to drum up support.

Her campaign drew a rebuff from Legal & General Investment Management, which holds a 5% stake. Legal & General said last week that Kraft's offer fell short of Cadbury's long-term value.

Peter Langerman, chief executive of Franklin Mutual Advisers, the biggest Cadbury shareholder at about 7%, was quoted last week as saying his company had "absolutely no interest in accepting the current Kraft offer."

Graham Jones and Damian McNeela, analysts at Panmure Gordon, said in a research note on Friday that Cadbury was worth 900 pence.

"On Tuesday the war of words stops and Kraft has to put a sensible offer on the table, otherwise Irene Rosenfeld will have to explain to her shareholders just why she sold one of Kraft's best growth platforms (pizza) in the U.S.," they wrote.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.

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