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AB InBev launches SAB bid, to sell MillerCoors stake

BRUSSELS/LONDON - Anheuser-Busch InBev <ABI.BR>, the world's biggest brewer, launched its $100 billion-plus offer for nearest rival SABMiller <SAB.L> on Wednesday and agreed to sell the latter's stake in U.S. venture MillerCoors to he...

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View of the Anheuser-Busch InBev logo outside the brewer's headquarters in Leuven. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

 

BRUSSELS/LONDON - Anheuser-Busch InBev <ABI.BR>, the world's biggest brewer, launched its $100 billion-plus offer for nearest rival SABMiller <SAB.L> on Wednesday and agreed to sell the latter's stake in U.S. venture MillerCoors to help win regulatory approval.

AB InBev, whose takeover of SABMiller would be one of the largest mergers in corporate history, said it expected to achieve $1.4 billion in annual savings four years after completion of the deal, projected for the second half of 2016.

AB InBev has also reached an agreement to sell SABMiller's 58 percent stake in U.S. joint venture MillerCoors as well as global rights to the Miller brand to the venture's other shareholder, Denver-based Molson Coors <TAP.N>, for $12 billion.

That price tag is higher than some analysts expected, given the shallow pool of buyers, but the cost-savings target is lower, although it does come on top of the $1.05 billion that SABMiller had already identified.

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The merger will combine AB InBev's Budweiser, Stella Artois and Corona brands with SABMiller's Peroni, Grolsch and Pilsner Urquell and brew almost a third of the world's beer, dwarfing rivals Heineken <HEIN.AS> and Carlsberg <CARLb.CO>.

Based on Tuesday's closing share prices and current exchange rates, the offer is worth 70 billion pounds, or $106 billion.

The takeover, which SABMiller's board provisionally accepted last month, would be the largest of a British-based company and the fourth-biggest overall of any corporation. It will be backed by a record $75 billion loan.

AB InBev is already No. 1 in the United States, Brazil and Mexico, three of the top four markets in terms of profits.

With SABMiller, it is buying into Latin American countries such as Colombia and Peru and crucially, Africa, at a time when markets such as the United States are weakening as drinkers shun mainstream lagers in favor of craft brews and cocktails.

Africa, where SAB operates in 16 countries, is expected to see a sharp rise in people of legal drinking age and has a fast-growing middle-class developing a taste for branded lagers and ales. Beer consumption there will grow by more than anywhere else over the next five years, according to industry experts Plato Logic.

AB InBev said it would seek a secondary listing and regional headquarters in Johannesburg.

 

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HURDLES TO CLEAR

AB InBev is offering 44 pounds per SABMiller share, along with a discounted alternative of mostly shares, designed for SABMiller's two largest shareholders: cigarette-maker Altria <MO.N> and BevCo, the vehicle of Colombia's Santo Domingo family, who together own 40.5 percent of the target company.

Those shareholders have accepted the alternative offer, the two brewers said in a joint statement. Altria said it expected to book a post-tax gain of $8 billion when the deal closed.

SABMiller shares were up 2.7 percent at 40.83 pounds at 1230 GMT (07:30 a.m. EST) on Wednesday, with gains limited by a degree of uncertainty around regulatory hurdles before the transaction is concluded. The shares have gained almost 40 percent since speculation about an AB InBev approach emerged two months ago.

"With today's developments, execution is still important but they have a bit of breathing room," said Morningstar analyst Philip Gorham.

AB InBev shares were up 0.9 percent. Analysts said the cost-conscious company would probably exceed its $1.4 billion savings target, having done so after previous acquisitions in the United States and Mexico.

"This is the estimate going in," said Bernstein Research analyst Trevor Stirling. "This is guaranteed and there may well be potential for more."

In SABMiller, it is buying a tighter-run operation, with pricing and distribution gains due to scale key to the deal, according to Warwick Business School professor John Colley.

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Molson Coors CEO Mark Hunter called its part of the deal a "game changer" for the company, as it will add nearly $5 billion a year in sales and nearly $1 billion in operating income. It will nearly double the company's international business.

While the MillerCoors stake sale may satisfy U.S. regulators, it remains to be seen whether the new company will have to divest SABMiller's 49 percent stake in CR Snow, China's leading brewer, according to Plato. AB InBev already has about 14 percent of the Chinese market.

However, AB InBev's confidence that the deal will go through is high, reflected by a potential $3 billion fee if it fails.

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