InBev weighs bid on brewer

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Shares of Anheuser-Busch touched a record high yesterday on reports that Europe’s InBev SA was working on a $46 billion bid for the St. Louis brewer.

Anheuser-Busch shares rose 7.7 percent, or $4.03, to close at $56.61 after reaching $58 in intraday trading.

The share surge followed a report on the Financial Times Web site that InBev, the world’s biggest brewer by volume, might directly approach Anheuser-Busch Chief Executive August Busch IV.

It’s the latest deal in a consolidating industry. Miller Brewing Co., the second-largest U.S. beer maker, and No. 3 Molson Coors Brewing Co. are planning to combine U.S. operations by midsummer.

Miller will distribute Grolsch in the U.S. after a February takeover by SABMiller of Europe.

Anheuser-Busch declined comment on the report. Messages left with InBev were not returned.

“It is our policy to not confirm, deny or speculate on rumors of potential investments, acquisitions, mergers, new business partnerships or other transactions,” said W. Randolph Baker, Anheuser-Busch’s vice president and chief financial officer.

InBev makes Beck’s, Brahma, Stella Artois and Skol beer. Reports of its interest in Anheuser-Busch have circulated for months.

Anheuser-Busch makes Budweiser, Bud Light and other beers. The company has an estimated 50.9 percent market share in the United States.

Ken Crawford, an analyst with Argent Capital of suburban St. Louis, said the deal would make sense for Anheuser-Busch.

“We see a company that’s very, very profitable, generates a lot of cash,” Mr. Crawford said of Anheuser-Busch. “The question is, where and how do they grow? It would not be unrealistic that they look abroad either for acquisitions or to partner with someone.”

Mr. Crawford said the impact on consumers remains to be seen.

“We don’t know if greater purchasing power would decrease costs and control prices, or if consolidation in the industry would allow those remaining to price more aggressively,” he said.

Fitch Ratings said in a special report yesterday that InBev and SABMiller have the financial flexibility to continue with consolidations.

Fitch said the two companies “have low to moderate leverage and good cash flow generation that would allow them to pursue larger targets.” The company also said Anheuser-Busch, though it has not pursued international acquisitions, has the financial flexibility to do so, but would have to reduce its share buyback program.

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