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Asahi Group Holdings Ltd. is close to an agreement to buy New Zealand’s Independent Liquor for about 1.5 billion New Zealand dollars (¥95.79 billion), two sources said.

A deal could be announced as early as Thursday, according to the sources, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.

Asahi spokesman Takayuki Tanaka declined comment. A transaction of that size would be Asahi’s biggest ever.

Japanese beverage makers, including Asahi and Kirin Holdings Co., are expanding abroad as the declining and aging population hurts domestic demand for beer and soft drinks. A strengthening yen, which hit a postwar record of 76.25 to the dollar in March, boosts Japanese companies’ buying power abroad.

“Japan’s market is mature, so it is inevitable for Japanese brewery companies to seek M&A chances overseas,” said Mitsushige Akino, who oversees about $600 million in Tokyo Ichiyoshi Investment Management Co.

Asahi submitted a bid for Independent Liquor on Aug. 4, a separate source said the following day. Independent Liquor, owned by Unitas Capital Pte. and Sydney-based Pacific Equity Partners, distributes brands including Woodstock bourbon, Whyte & Mackay scotch, Carlsberg and Tuborg beers as well as premixed drinks in New Zealand and Australia.

Amanda Lee, a spokeswoman at Financial Dynamics, Pacific Equity Partners’ external media adviser, declined comment on a possible sale of Independent Liquor.

Asahi shares have gained about 1 percent this year, compared with a 13 percent slide in the Topix index.

The brewer’s biggest acquisition has been its purchase of Cadbury PLC’s Schweppes Beverages business in Australia for £550 million, or about $808 million at the time, which was completed in April 2009.

Asahi has lagged behind Kirin in expanding overseas. Asahi has spent more than $2 billion abroad in the past five years, compared with Kirin’s more than $12 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Kirin on Aug. 2 paid 3.95 billion reals ($2.5 billion) to gain a stake in Schincariol Participacoes e Representacoes SA, Brazil’s second-largest beermaker.

Asahi last month agreed to buy the water and juice businesses of P&N Beverages Australia Pty Ltd. and New Zealand drink maker Charlie’s Group Ltd. for $309 million to expand overseas as sales growth declines at home.

“Developing markets like Brazil or India are still volatile, so I think it is safer and easier for Asahi to focus on Oceania,” Akino of Ichiyoshi Investment said.

Kirin made more than 23 percent of its ¥1.7 trillion in 2010 sales abroad, while Asahi generated 6.6 percent of its ¥1.5 trillion in sales overseas.

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