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By Martinne Geller
NEW YORK, June 20 Anheuser-Busch Cos Inc
(BUD.N) on Friday said Grupo Modelo GMODELOC.MX Chief
Executive Carlos Fernandez resigned from its board of
directors, signaling the loss of a potential key ally in the
U.S. brewer's fight to fend off an unsolicited takeover bid
from InBev NV INTB.BR.
Fernandez, who had been a board member since 1996, left "to
avoid any appearance of a conflict (of interest)," according to
a Modelo spokeswoman.
Such a conflict could result from several scenarios,
according to Robbert van Batenburg, head of research for Louis
Capital Markets in New York. Most likely, he said, would be
that Mexico's No. 1 brewer Modelo, which is half-owned by
Anheuser, was negotiating to sell Anheuser the half it doesn't
own or talking to InBev about a side deal.
Fernandez's departure may also signal "a further erosion"
of ties between Anheuser's founding Busch family and Modelo's
founding Fernandez family, van Batenburg added, noting that the
relationship between the two dynasties has deteriorated over
the years since Anheuser bought its stake in Modelo in 1993.
Modelo, brewer of beers including Corona and Negra Modelo,
is emerging as a critical power broker in the battle for
control of Anheuser, the largest U.S. brewer and maker of
Budweiser and Michelob.
As St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch weighs a $46.3 billion
takeover proposal from Belgian-Brazilian brewer InBev, reports
have surfaced that Anheuser was in talks with Modelo about
buying the Mexican brewer outright to make itself too big for
InBev to swallow. Reports have also surfaced that InBev has
reached out to Modelo, assuring it that if InBev took over
Anheuser, it would let Modelo decide its own fate.
Such an incentive could have led Fernandez to vote in favor
of an InBev takeover, speculated Ann Gilpin, an analyst with
Morningstar. So his departure could be a slight positive for
Anheuser and the Busch family should they want to stay
independent, she said, since it removes his vote.
Gilpin said she believes Fernandez's interests lie first
with Modelo and secondly with Anheuser-Busch.
"Given that Grupo Modelo is going to potentially play a key
role in whether Anheuser-Busch stays independent or not, I
think he (Fernandez) would rather be representing the interests
of Grupo Modelo," Gilpin said.
Anheuser has been punished over the years by Wall Street,
in part for its keen focus on the mature U.S. market where beer
sales are slowing. It said on Friday that it will take over a
joint venture it formed last year to bring its Budweiser beer
to southern and western India. Terms were not disclosed.
Anheuser-Busch shares were down 2 cents at $61.03 on the
New York Stock Exchange in afternoon trading.
(Reporting by Martinne Geller, editing by Gerald E. McCormick
and Steve Orlofsky)