- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2008

ST. LOUIS | U.S. politicians are already protesting Belgian brewer InBev’s unsolicited $46 billion bid to buy Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. and absorb the iconic brewery to create the world’s fourth largest consumer products company. But it appears lawmakers have little leverage to stop the deal.

“It’s going to cause a lot of the angst and hand wringing,” said Douglas Cogen, a mergers and acquisitions attorney with the Fenwick & West law firm in San Francisco. “In the end, there isn’t a lot of regulatory clearance that this deal needs.”

There are signs Anheuser-Busch is trying to thwart the deal. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday the brewer has begun preliminary talks with Mexico’s Grupo Modelo SAB about a possible merger. The paper cited anonymous sources who said Anheuser-Busch approached Carlos Fernandez, chief executive of Modelo and an Anheuser-Busch director, about a deal in recent weeks.

Anheuser-Busch already owns a roughly 50 percent non-controlling stake in Modelo. If the companies merge, the combined company could be too big for InBev to purchase. An Anheuser-Busch spokeswoman said no one could comment on the report.

A Modelo spokesman was unavailable.

InBev Chief Executive Carlos Brito spent part of a Thursday morning conference call trying to calm political and regulatory concerns about the deal.

Mr. Brito said the merged company, which would be the world’s largest brewer by far, would not violate antitrust laws because it would combine breweries that operate in different geographic markets. Mr. Brito downplayed the prospect that InBev would slash U.S. jobs and promised not to close any Anheuser-Busch breweries.

InBev’s offer translates to $65 a share for Anheuser-Busch stockholders, a rich premium over the company’s stock price of $58.35 Wednesday before the offer was made public. Anheuser-Busch’s stock jumped more than 5 percent Thursday to close at $61.40 a share.

Anheuser-Busch management has been largely mum about the deal. The company said Wednesday its board of directors would consider the offer and respond to InBev “in due course,” but did not elaborate.

Even if senior executives and the board oppose the deal, they might have few options to stop it, said Andy Baker, a vice president of special situation strategies at the New York-based investment bank Jefferies & Company, Inc.

Anheuser-Busch’s bylaws allow shareholders to bring a motion to vote if just 25 percent approve of a deal, Mr. Baker said.

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