By Pamela Barbaglia and Martinne Geller
LONDON (Reuters) - Investment firm Platinum Equity is preparing a binding bid for part of Unilever's <ULVR.L> <UNc.AS> margarine and spreads business, sources familiar with the matter said, ahead of next week's deadline for final offers.
Los Angeles-based Platinum wants the portion of Unilever's spreads business that covers developed markets such as Europe and the United States where demand has been falling but profit margins remain high, rather than the whole unit which includes emerging markets, the sources said.
Unilever's banks Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs have asked bidders to submit final bids by Dec. 11 as the consumer giant wants to clinch a deal before the end of 2017, they said. Unilever and Platinum declined to comment. Most bidders want to buy the business as a whole. But Platinum, the smallest fund among those lining up to bid, has only set its sights on the developed markets portion, where changing consumer habits mean people in Western countries eat less bread and margarine. Platinum - which has investments in a range of industries, from industrials and manufacturing to media and entertainment - is ready to pay a competitive multiple to make its proposal attractive, one of the sources said.
Unilever Chief Financial Officer Graeme Pitkethly said in June that the company was hoping to get a deal done by the end of the year and was open to evaluating offers for all or parts of its shrinking business.
If Unilever can't generate enough value from a sale, it would consider options such as a spin-off, the firm has said. Investment firms Apollo <APO.N> and CVC Capital Partners are also working on rival bids to buy the business as a whole which is worth about 6 billion pounds, the sources.
U.S. buyout fund KKR, which also made it to the final stages of the auction, is still working on the dossier but several sources said its interest was waning.
KKR, Apollo and CVC declined to comment.
Reuters reported on Nov. 29 that Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Mizuho would offer a pre-arranged financing package to potential buyers totalling 4 billion euros (£3.5 billion), more than five times the business's earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of 700 million to 750 million euros.
Unilever put the business up for sale as part of a review into its organisation sparked by an unexpected takeover bid from Kraft-Heinz <KHC.O> in February.
(Additional reporting by Dasha Afanasieva; Editing by Edmund Blair)