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Beer Giant Ponders Bid For Bud

Added: Thursday, May 1st 2008

InBev, the world's biggest brewer, is planning an audacious $46 billion (23bn) bid for Anheuser-Busch, American owner of the world's biggest beer brand, Budweiser. InBev, which jumped to Number One in the world beer stakes in 2004 when Interbrew of Belgium merged with Ambev of Brazil, is rumoured to be raising finance to make a formal bid for A-B, based in St Louis, Missouri. A previous approach last year was rebuffed by A-B and the company claims it is still not for sale. But A-B shares soared on Friday, 23 May, when news of the planned bid by InBev was leaked.

InBev owns Stella Artois, Beck's, Hoegaarden and Leffe along with Boddington's and Draught Bass in Britain. If it succeeded in buying Anheuser-Busch, with such brands as Budweiser, Bud Lite and Michelob, InBev would become not just the biggest brewer in the world by far but one of the top five global consumer product groups. A-B shares rose by 7.7% to $56.60 in New York on 23 May. InBev is believed to be in talks with JP Morgan and Santander about debt financing.

August Busch IV, great-great-grandson of the founder of A-B, and chief executive of the group, says he will fight a takeover but the Busch family no longer owns sufficient shares to block a bid.

One intriguing knock-on effect of an InBev takeover of A-B would be fate of the Czech brewer Budweiser Budvar. The brewery is state-owned but the government is preparing to turn it into a joint stock company in preparation for privatisation. As a result of the long-running trade dispute with A-B over the Budweiser title, it has been thought for some time that the only possible partner for a privatised Budvar would be A-B. No other big brewer would want to buy Budvar and become embroiled in expensive legal battles with A-B. If InBev buys Anheuser-Busch and owns American Budweiser it would be in a position to add Budvar to its portfolio. But would it want a premium Czech lager alongside Stella Artois?