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SABMiller rejects AB InBev’s latest takeover bid

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HONG KONG — It’s not clear whether the latest beer merger effort has gone flat or may still have some fizz.

The world’s biggest brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev is pursuing its chief rival SABMiller, in an attempt to create a super brewery.

SABMiller is playing hard to get. The multinational beermaker has rejected an improved takeover offer Wednesday.

AB InBev said it was prepared to buy SABMiller for £42.15 ($64.34) per share in cash. That valued SABMiller at £68.2 billion ($104 billion), or 44% higher than its share price before talk of a takeover began circulating in September. SAB Miller said the £42.15 proposal “still very substantially undervalues” it.

But the “Bud-Miller” effort is far from over.

The combined company would be the world’s largest beermaker by far, with nine of the world’s top 20 beers by volume, and annual sales of $55 billion.

AB InBev has already had two initial proposals at £40 ($61.07) and £38 ($58) per share rejected by SABMiller. But while the company’s board voted unanimously against the first two bids, its opinion on the latest offer was split.

Board members representing SABMiller’s biggest shareholder voted to accept the offer, saying the combination of the two companies would create significant value for shareholders.

Altria Group, which owns 27% of SABMiller, said it supports a proposal of £42.15 or higher. Altria is the owner of Philip Morris USA Inc. and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company.

It was outvoted by the rest of the board, but continues to push for the merger.

“Altria urges SABMiller’s board to engage promptly and constructively with AB InBev to agree on the terms of a recommended offer,” it added.

Shares of both firms shot up last month when SABMiller, owner of the Miller Lite, Pilsner Urquell and Peroni brands, announced that AB InBev was interested in making a bid.

If the deal happens, it would be the biggest merger in brewing history, and could rank among the top 10 takeovers of all time, according to Dealogic and EY.

SABMiller’s chairman struck a cautious note earlier Wednesday.

“AB InBev needs SABMiller but has made opportunistic and highly conditional proposals, elements of which have been deliberately designed to be unattractive to many of our shareholders,” Jan du Plessis said in a statement. “SABMiller is the crown jewel of the global brewing industry.”

As younger drinkers turn in ever greater numbers to independent breweries, the global market leaders have been trying to defend their market share.

AB InBev has swallowed Seattle’s Elysian Brewing, Oregon’s 10 Barrel Brewing and Chicago-based Goose Island in the last year or two.

SABMiller has also tapped into the craft beer scene, buying one of the UK’s most successful independents, London’s Meantime Brewing Company.

SABMiller shares were up 1% after the bid was rejected. They had opened up 3%. AB InBev shares were up 2%, after opening 4% higher.

By Ivana Kottasova and Sophia Yan