The Philippines' largest food and beverage conglomerate, San Miguel Corp (SMC), has been busy acquiring companies and brewery facilities across the region over the past five years. When Eduardo Cojuangco Jr took the helm as chairman and chief executive in 1998, the company was ready to expand and diversify its operations. A year later, Mr Cojuangco and Ramon Ang, the company president, coughed up US$500 million as investment money - a budget to acquire new brands. Since 1999, SMC has concluded 15 alliances and buy-ins that cost the company an estimated US$3.5 billion, based on current foreign exchange rates. The latest purchase, which is still under final negotiations, is the US$1.4 billion takeover of National Foods of Australia. Analyst Ron Rodrigo of Accord Capital Equities in Manila believes SMC is in a strong position to expand with US$315 million cash on hand. '[SMC] could either pay its debts or expand. They chose to expand.' As of the end of last year, SMC's long-term debt stood at US$640 million, according to its auditor, SGV & Co. 'It is a manageable debt,' Mr Rodrigo said. SMC acquired two local firms - Metro Bottled Water Corp and Sugarland Multi-Food Corp - for US$25.9 million and US$53.7 million, respectively, in 1999. A year later, it made its first Australian takeover, acquiring brewer J Boag & Son for US$96 million. SMC made two of its biggest local acquisitions in 2001 - a 65 per cent stake in Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines for US$1.1 billion, and 99.7 per cent of Purefoods Corp, one of the country's largest food companies, for US$148 million. A year later, it concluded a strategic partnership with Japan's oldest and largest beverage maker, Kirin Brewery, for US$516 million, with the latter taking 19.7 per cent ownership in SMC. After a few months, the company paid US$260 million for 65 per cent of local brand Cosmos Bottling Corp so it could produce low-priced soft drinks. By 2003, it was looking to Vietnam for expansion and bought full ownership of hog-farming and feed-milling company TTC Vietnam for US$35.5 million. Last year, SMC spent US$120 million to wholly acquire Thai Amarit Brewery, and US$102 million for 51 per cent of Berri, one of Australia's leading fruit juice makers. SMC last month won the bidding war for National Foods and is also interested in Del Monte Pacific whose asking price is US$400 million, according to sources. Leo Venezuela of ATR Kim Eng Securities said the focus right now was Southeast Asia, China and Australia. 'In five to 10 years, San Miguel could easily become a global player like Nestle,' he said.