The World’s Biggest Brewers are Eyeing a $245 Billion Merger

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The world’s biggest brewing company is going to make an offer for its biggest rival, ending months of speculation about a possible tie-up.

SABMiller Inc. said in a stock exchange statement Wednesday that Anheuser-Busch InBev SA. has notified its board “that it intends to make a proposal to acquire SABMiller.”

The news would confirm months of speculation about a merger between the two giants, which own household names like Budweiser and Coors as well as a string of leading international brands such as Grolsch, Stella Artois and Foster’s.

Like many mergers, it would be a product of strategic weakness rather than strength: slowing growth in emerging markets, where both companies are heavily exposed, and the loss of market share to craft brewers in stagnant or shrinking developed markets, has challenged the business model of both groups.

SABMiller’s shares have rocketed higher in London in response to the news, gaining 23% in a matter of minutes. AB InBev’s are around 7.4% higher in Brussels. Prior to the news, SAB’s shares had lost 12% this year, while AB Inbev’s had been essentially flat.

SABMiller said in its statement that it had no details of the mooted offer, and couldn’t guarantee that one would actually be made.

The Financial Times reported “people familiar with the matter” as saying that AB InBev was hoping to be able to agree a friendly deal, but that it wasn’t clear whether Altria Group (the parent company of Philip Morris USA), which holds 27% stake in SABMiller, was interested.

If the deal goes ahead, it would be by far the largest in the food and drink industry to date, dwarfing the $46 billion tie-up this year between Kraft Foods and HJ Heinz and the $52 billion deal that brought AB and InBev together in 2008. Taken together, the two companies have a market capitalization of some $245 billion, but it’s likely that the group would have to divest at least some of its major brands to satisfy antitrust concerns from Latin America to the U.S. and China. The FT said that Coors–SABMiller’s North American unit–would be one such candidate for divestment.

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