Deal reached in principle to create company controlling a third of global beer sales

Deal reached in principle to create company controlling a third of global beer sales

BRUSSELS – The world's Top 2 beer makers agreed Tuesday to join forces to create a company that would control nearly a third of the global market & bring together leading U.S. brands Budweiser & Miller Genuine Draft.

After turning down five offers, U.K.-based brewer SABMiller accepted in principle an improved takeover bid worth 69 billion pounds (US$106 billion) from Anheuser Busch InBev, which along with Budweiser makes Corona, Stella Artois & Beck's.

However, the sheer scale of the deal is likely to run into resistance from regulators, notably in the U.S. & China, amid concerns it could stifle competition & decrease choice for consumers. They could force the companies to sell some brands — such as either the Budweiser or Miller brands — or its U.S. joint venture with Molson Coors.

p>Having dismissed previous proposals over the past few weeks as undervaluing the company, the directors of SABMiller unanimously agreed to an offer that values each SABMiller share at 44 pounds. SABMiller's two biggest shareholders, Marlboro owner Altria & Colombia's BevCo would obtain both cash & shares for their combined 41 per cent stake.

AB InBev has until Oct. 28 to come up with a formal offer if U.K. regulators grant an extension to the takeover talks. In that time, the two sides will work on the terms & conditions of the takeover offer as well as the financing of the deal.

The markets think the deal is now very likely & SABMiller's shares were trading right near the bid price.

News of the merger talks have helped bump up shares of rival beer conglomerate Molson Coors Brewing. Its shares set a new all-time high of US$89 in early trading in New York, & were up nearly 11 per cent at US$87.25 late in the morning session.

Industry analysts expect U.S. anti-trust regulators will require the sale of SABMiller's stake in the MillerCoors joint venture that sells Miller & Coors products. Molson Coors owns 42 per cent of the joint venture & would go to 50 per cent with a alter in control. Under a 2008 agreement, it then has the right to a first & last offer to purchase the remaining 50 per cent interest if the new brewing giant is forced to unload it.

Molson Coors declined to comment on the merger of its rivals or whether it would seek to boost its stake in MillerCoors.

Analyst Brittany Weissman of Edward Jones said Molson Coors stock received a bounce from the likelihood of that happening, since it is unlikely that regulators would allow the new company to control 70 per cent of the U.S. market.

"There's a possibility you could see that (the sale of MillerCoors) as part of a final agreement," she said in an interview.

In statements, AB InBev & SABMiller said Tuesday the new all-cash offer represents a premium of around 50 per cent to SABMiller's share price on Sept. 14, the last trading day before renewed speculation of an approach from AB InBev emerged.

According to Tuesday's statements, AB InBev has agreed to pay $3 billion to SABMiller if the deal fails to close because of failure to obtain regulatory approval or the clearance of AB InBev shareholders.

Connor Campbell, a financial analyst at Spreadex, cautioned that a deal "is going to come under intense, potentially deal-ending, scrutiny from regulators."

The new company would have annual sales of US$73.3 billion & its market share of 31 per cent would dwarf that of its next biggest competitor, Heineken, with nine per cent.

Market leader AB InBev already has six of the world's largest beer brands. In Canada, it owns the Labatt's business which was acquired in 1995. SABMiller, which is based in London, has Peroni, Grolsch & Milwaukee's Best among its stable of beers.

For AB InBev, a deal would allow it to bolster its presence in Africa & Australia, where it is not as dominant as it currently is in Europe, North Africa & Asia.

The beer industry has been consolidating for the past decade as brewers seek to gain clout with suppliers, distributors & retailers.

"The global beer market overall is largely flat, & in some regions is declining as other beverages such as wine continue to penetrate," said Professor John Colley of Warwick Business School. "Micro brewers & their highly differentiated cask ales moreover continue to make progress."

AB InBev has a history of making acquisitions & will be looking to find cost savings from the deal as well as more clout with suppliers.

SABMiller employs 69,000 people in 83 countries. AB InBev has 155,000 workers in 25 countries.

Details of the savings have not been published yet & will probably have to wait until a deal is formally agreed upon.

— With files from The Canadian Press

Source: “The Canadian Press”

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