Steel Partners Sells Entire Stake in Sapporo Holdings

Warren Lichtenstein’s Steel Partners sold its entire stake in Sapporo Holdings Ltd., Japan’s fourth-largest brewer, after failing to oust its directors.

Steel Partners Japan Strategic Fund (Offshore) LP no longer owns shares in Sapporo, while its partner Liberty Square Asset Management LP holds 0.15 percent, according to a filing with Japan’s Ministry of Finance today. The two funds jointly owned 7.88 percent as of Dec. 6, trimming their holdings from a peak of 19.28 percent in 2007, based on earlier filings.

Sapporo’s stock jumped to its highest close in more than two months earlier today on speculation Steel Partners sold more shares in the Tokyo-based maker of Yebisu beer. The fund, which began investing in Sapporo in 2004, started reducing its stake after losing a shareholder vote in March this year to force changes at the brewer, including ousting directors and cutting capacity.

“Individual investors are coming back to the brewer now that it can focus on its business instead of dealing with Steel Partners,” Tsuyoshi Segawa, a strategist at Mizuho Securities Co. in Tokyo, said by telephone today. He commented on the stock’s gain before the filing to the ministry was released.

Katsuhito Ogawa, a spokesman for Sapporo, declined to comment. Masako Matsuoka, a spokeswoman for Steel Partners Japan, said the fund can’t comment on individual stock transactions.

Sapporo climbed 5.5 percent to 384 yen at the 3 p.m. close in Tokyo trading, the biggest gainer on the Nikkei 225 Stock Average. The stock has fallen 25 percent this year, underperforming bigger rivals Kirin Holdings Co. and Asahi Breweries Ltd.

Any investor with a stake of at least 5 percent in a publicly traded company in Japan has to file documents to the finance ministry within five working days if there is a change in its shareholding.

Steel Partners has reduced its holdings in more than a dozen Japanese companies in the past three years. Most of the fund’s attempts to force changes have been blocked as companies turned to so-called poison pill defense measures and friendly tie-ups.

Steel Partners’ biggest holding in Japan is a 28 percent stake in Unihair Co., a wigmaker formerly known as Aderans Holdings Co., whose management the fund ousted in 2008.

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