Anheuser-Busch InBev flags sell-off to EU

Anheuser-Busch InBev has formally informed EU anti-trust regulators of its plan to sell SABMiller’s premium European brands to try to secure approval for its $100bn-plus (€876m) takeover of the London-based brewer.

The world’s top brewer has already struck an agreement to sell the assets to Japan’s Asahi Group Holdings, a tactic aimed at staving off a possible lengthy investigation of the biggest ever deal in the consumer goods industry.

“This proposal concerns the European premium brand families of Peroni, Grolsch, and Meantime, and their associated businesses in Italy, the Netherlands, UK, and internationally, excluding certain US rights,” an AB Inbev spokeswoman said.

The European Commission said it would decide by May 24 whether to clear the deal.

Margrethe Vestager, the European competition commissioner, will seek feedback from rivals and other third parties before deciding whether the offer is sufficient to allay regulatory worries.

The SABMiller acquisition would allow AB InBev, maker of Budweiser and Stella Artois, to expand into countries such as Colombia and Peru, and, crucially, Africa.

AB Inbev is also selling SABMiller’s stake in US joint venture MillerCoors to Molson Coors Brewing and SABMiller’s stake in its CR Snow venture to China Resources Beer to address competition concerns in other regions.

The EU’s new deadline to rule on approving the deal or opening a longer investigation comes after the companies made an offer last week.

The EU did not say what the companies were prepared to do to allay any anti-trust concerns.

AB InBev has already flagged plans to sell SABMiller’s beer brands that might overlap with its own in Europe.

Such early concessions involving a sale of a business unit can allow the EU to approve a deal quickly.

It means the regulators could move on the deal without opening a so-called Phase II probe lasting at least four months.

Trevor Stirling, an analyst at Sanford C Bernstein, said he would have been surprised if the concessions made to the EU didn’t include the Asahi sales.

“I’m at a loss as to what remedies AB InBev can offer in terms of further divestments,” he said.

* Reuters and Bloomberg


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