THE worst kept secret in WA's liquor industry was finally broken this week when Woolworths confirmed it had acquired the Patrick Stephen-son's 45-store Liberty Liquors chain for a reputed $60 million.There is much conjecture in the industry about the undisclosed cost, with specul-ation putting the tag price anywhere between $30 million and $70 million during the past year.The market appears to have settled on $60 million, an amount which is too small to force Woolworths to reveal the price to the stock exchange.The sale has further consolidated the WA industry into the hands of the two supermarket chains, with Woolworths now able to claim 45 stores in the State, against Coles-Myer's 76.Third-placed rival Australian Liquor Group should be buoyed by the sale.ALG has fallen well short of its prospectus forecasts since listing last year, but a $60 million price on Libertys may prompt the market to re-evaluate its listed rival, which is sitting on a market capitalisation of only $27 million despite having only three less stores.Libertys has an annual turnover of $130 million against ALG's first six month sales of $57 million.ALG recently bought the Porters label, further consolidating the WA industry, though the Porters' stores remain independent and additional revenue throughput does not add to profitability nearly as much as a direct acquisition.WA liquor stores have improved in value as their regulated status and demand from the big players has boosted prices, according to business brokers.It is understood a store with net profit of $100,000 or more is worth about 2.5 to 3 times net profit, plus stock, up from a ratio of about 2.2 times only a few years ago.Liquor stores are catching up with newsagencies in terms of their ratios, while seven day a week businesses such as service stations and delis suffer a fall.Flavour of the month is post offices which are averaging 4 times net profit.A Woolworths spokeswoman said the purchase of Libertys would boost its share of the national packaged liquor market to 12.7 per cent, and take the group's national store numbers to 415.She said it was likely the stores would be rebranded in many cases with Woolworths' Macs and Dan Murphy signage."It all depends on what state we are discussing," she said."We want to feel what will fit best in WA."
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