Rumors and discussions of a possible merger between Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller are nothing new, it’s been talked about by the business press off and on for a number of years now. But it had been quiet lately, most likely because of the deal by ABI to buy Grupo Modelo. But yesterday Reuters fanned the flames of merger once again, in a piece of speculation: Bets on for mega brewer merger as virgin ground shrinks.
With the acknowledged bullet points that “Asia main area with assets left to buy,” and that the ABI and SABMiller would combine the “growth markets” of Africa and Latin America,” they put the price for ABI to buy SABMiller at at least $100 billion. According to Reuters:
Now, with AB InBev planning to return to a comfortable pre-deal debt-to-EBITDA ratio of below two next year, industry experts are betting on a combination of its Budweiser and Stella Artois brands with SABMiller’s Peroni and Grolsch. Some expect a deal within a year.
“It’s more a question of when, not if,” said a banker who has worked on drinks deals. Others, also speaking on condition of anonymity, cited AB InBev’s record as a serial acquirer and the need for a target to match or surpass its $52 billion purchase of Anheuser Busch in 2008.
Asia, they claim, is the next frontier, though many of the bigger breweries are state-owned (which means expensive). Interestingly, while they admit that SABMiller would also be expensive the Reuters’ business analysts believe “a tie-up would be straightforward with antitrust issues relatively easy to fix and immediate benefits of scale.” Other analysts, however, do see potential problems with the merger from “regulators is in the United States and China” because of the market overlap in those countries.
Price, not surprisingly, is the elephant in the room, and the estimated $100 billion ticket price would make such a deal the “fifth-largest corporate acquisition ever.” Reuters places the current value of SABMiller at $84.5 billion and believes it’s in ABI’s best interest “to move fast before SABMiller gets more expensive.” But would SABMiller be interested in selling? “SABMiller’s two top shareholders — cigarette maker Altria Group and the Santo Domingo family of Colombia, which own 27 percent and 14 percent, respectively — ‘may think this is as good as it gets,’ said another banker.” So that suggests that the people behind the curtain might be amiable to the buyout. A couple of years ago, writing about this very possibility of a merger, I recalled that when the AB/InBev merger went down, someone joked that eventually there would be just one international beer company and it would just be called “Beer.” I remember laughing at the time, but truth really is stranger than fiction. So who knows? It should be an interesting year.
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