Sun, May 25, 2008 - Page 11 News List

Report boosts Anheuser-Busch shares

MARKET TRENDThe beer business is a consolidating industry and the company may follow in the steps of major rivals seeking profit by combining their operations

AP , ST LOUIS, MISSOURI

Shares of Anheuser-Busch touched an all-time high on Friday on reports that Europe’s InBev SA was working on a US$46 billion bid for the St. Louis-based brewer.

Anheuser-Busch shares rose 7.7 percent, or US$4.03, to SU$56.61 after reaching as high as US$58.

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

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

Miller will distribute Grolsch in the US 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 domestic market share.

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,” 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.”

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 report on Friday 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.

Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research upgraded Anheuser-Busch to “neutral” from “sell,” saying in a report on Friday that takeover speculation “is likely to support the stock near term.”

The report noted that the Busch family lacks voting control and there are no antitakeover measures, meaning that if InBev develops a proposal, the company’s fate will be decided by the board of directors and shareholders.

Anheuser-Busch has been a St. Louis icon since the mid-19th century. Eberhard Anheuser acquired the Bavarian brewery in 1860 and renamed it E. Anheuser & Co. His son-in-law, Adolphus Busch, joined the company in 1864 and it was eventually renamed Anheuser-Busch.

The company survived Prohibition by selling products ranging from ice cream to root beer.

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