Is AB InBev Buying SABMiller? Or SABMiller Buying Heineken?

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

Sep 19, 2014

It started with an early-September report in the Wall Street Journal: "Anheuser-Busch InBev NV is talking to banks about financing a potential megadeal, perhaps reaching [$122 billion], to buy global beer rival SABMiller, according to a person familiar with the matter."

While there were no public confirmations of that long-rumored attempted takeover, the story did evoke a public reaction: SABMiller was turned down in its offer to buy Dutch brewer Heineken, which would have served as a poison pill defense against AB InBev.

The pricetags are staggering: Maybe $122 billion for SAB Miller? SABMiller's offer to Heineken was never disclosed, but speculative reports put it above the $52 billion InBev paid in 2008 to buy Anheuser-Busch.

Staggering also are the potential payoffs, or at least the market share gains. AB InBev had a nearly 20 percent share of the global beer market in 2013, The Journal said quoting Euromonitor figures. SABMiller is second with a 9.6 percent slice, and Heineken is third with 9.3 percent.

Heineken's founding family, which still owns just over 50 percent of the company, turned down SABMiller's offer in a public statement that did not mention price. SABMiller could always sweeten its offer.

The financial community expects another shoe dropping from either the AB InBev or SABMiller sides.Global antitrust issues would be considerable but not insurmountable, according to experts. But an AB InBev-SABMiller hookup would almost certainly require the dismantling of SAB's MillerCoors joint sales venture in the U.S.

Recall that Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital was behind the 2004 merger of Brazil's AmBev with Belgium's Interbrew to create InBev, which was catapulted into the global No. 1 spot in beer sales. Four years later, the new company bought Anheuser-Busch; and last year bought the half of the Mexican brewer Grupo Modelo it didn't already own.

3G Capital continues to control much of AB InBev stock … as well as H.J. Heinz Co. and Burger King, which currently is completing a deal to buy Canadian coffee and donut shop Tim Hortons.

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