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Onex said to lead bidding for billionaire Hart’s juice-box maker SIG

The Onex Corp. logo is displayed at the company's annual general meeting in Toronto in 2012.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Onex Corp., Canada's largest buyout firm, is leading the bidding for Swiss juice-box maker SIG Combibloc Group AG in what would be one of its biggest European acquisitions, according to people familiar with the matter.

Onex, which is competing against Swiss private-equity firm Partners Group Holding AG in the final round, may reach an agreement to buy SIG for more than $4-billion as early as this week, said the people, who asked not to be identified as talks are private. Negotiations could still fall apart, they said.

SIG was bought by New Zealand-based Rank Group Ltd., which is backed by billionaire Graeme Hart, in 2007 for 2.8 billion Swiss francs ($2.9-billion). Acquiring the company, which has made cartons for V8 vegetable drinks and Campbell soups, could validate Onex's ongoing efforts to expand in Europe and put an end to a dry spell for acquisitions this year.

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The Toronto-based private equity firm has only made one significant acquisition so far in 2014 with the July purchase of York Risk Services Group Inc., a provider of risk management, insurance claims and managed-car services, for $1.33-billion.

Last week, Onex's management said on a conference call that European market volatility is creating opportunities for acquisitions as companies back away from initial public offerings. European business owners, who were thinking of exiting their investments through a stock sale, now may explore auctions and sales processes instead, according to Anthony Munk, a senior managing director at Onex.

'Great Companies' "Our challenge today remains finding great companies at reasonable prices," Bobby Le Blanc, another senior managing director at the firm, said on the Nov. 14 call. "I haven't seen our team this busy evaluating new investment opportunities in quite some time."

Onex has been making a strategic push into Europe, most recently opening a credit office in October to begin offering collateralized loan obligations on the continent. Onex also assigned Nigel Wright to the London office. Wright is a former managing director who rejoined the firm in July after serving as a top aide to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Depending on the final closing price, SIG would likely be Onex's largest transaction in Europe since 2010 when the private equity firm and its partner, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, acquired Tomkins Plc for $4.8-billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

SIG, which was founded in the 1850s as a railway carmaker, had sales of €1.68-billion ($2.1-billion) in 2013, and more than 5,100 employees in about 40 countries, according to its website.

A representative for Neuhausen, Switzerland-based SIG couldn't be immediately reached outside of regular business hours. A spokesman for Partners Group declined to comment. A spokesman at Rank Group in New Zealand couldn't be immediately reached for comment. A spokeswoman for onex declined to comment.

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