Thursday, July 19, 2007

Buffett of Belgium: Albert Frere Maneuver in Bertelsmann Deal Gets Henry Kravis Nod

Albert Frere had a good excuse for his limp the day in 1988 he met French executive Jean Peyrelevade for the first time. A wounded boar had attacked him during a weekend hunting expedition in the Ardennes forest of southern Belgium, leaving a gash in Frere's leg that took 25 stitches to close. ``He was on his back kicking it in the muzzle,'' says Peyrelevade, recounting Frere's explanation for the leg wound.

Frere, now 81, is still hunting both boar and European corporations. In more than half a century, he has turned a family business selling nails and chains into an empire with assets valued at more than 24 billion euros ($32 billion). In the past year, he and his partners earned more than 2 billion euros by selling their stake in Bertelsmann AG, Europe's largest media company. Frere's holding companies are now poised to profit from the pending merger of French utility Suez SA, in which Frere and his partners are the largest shareholders, and government-controlled Gaz de France SA.

As the global takeover boom sets records -- volume this year was $2.4 trillion through June 20 -- Frere, one of Europe's original buyout artists, is grabbing his share. Frere last year bought big stakes in French building materials maker Lafarge SA and liquor purveyor Pernod Ricard SA. The Belgian's family fortune is about 3 billion euros, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

....``He's investing for the long term,'' says Tom Simonts, an analyst at KBC Securities in Brussels who tracks three of Frere's publicly traded holding companies. ``He doesn't really care about short-term fluctuations. He's more or less the Warren Buffett of Belgium.''

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Source: Whitney Tilson

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