U.S. judge grants more time for accord on AB InBev-Modelo deal

WASHINGTON, April 9 Tue Apr 9, 2013 10:11am EDT

WASHINGTON, April 9 (Reuters) - The judge overseeing the court fight between the U.S. Justice Department and Anheuser-Busch InBev over its Grupo Modelo deal approved a stay in court proceedings on Tuesday to give the two sides more time to reach an accord.

Last week the two sides asked for an extension of a stay, which began in February, in order to wrap up an "agreement in principle" that would end litigation.

The U.S. government filed a lawsuit on Jan. 31 to stop AB InBev, the world's largest brewer, from buying the 50 percent of Grupo Modelo it does not already own for $20.1 billion. The Justice Department said the deal could mean higher U.S. beer prices.

To win U.S. antitrust approval for the deal, AB InBev first offered to sell its 50 percent share in Modelo's U.S. distributor, Crown Imports, to Constellation Brands, the world's largest branded wine company.

When that was not enough to satisfy the U.S. government, AB InBev said in February it would sell Modelo's Piedras Negras brewery in Mexico near the U.S border to Constellation for $2.9 billion and would grant Constellation the U.S. rights to Corona and other Modelo brands.

The revised InBev offer would make Constellation the third largest U.S. beer producer.

Analysts have said that for AB InBev, the main benefits of the proposed deal with Modelo lie in Mexico, the world's fourth- largest market in terms of profit generated, and in driving Corona sales outside the United States.