By Diane Bartz
WASHINGTON Feb 20 The U.S. Justice Department
and Anheuser-Busch InBev, which have been embroiled in
a court fight over whether AB InBev can expand its stake in
Mexican brewer Grupo Modelo, asked a court on Wednesday for a
short delay as the two sides hold settlement talks.
AB InBev, the world's largest brewer, has 200 brands ranging
from big names like Budweiser and Stella Artois to craft-style
beers like Shock Top and Goose Island.
AB InBev wants to buy the 50 percent of Modelo it does not
already own for $20.1 billion, but in a nod to antitrust
concerns the company said it would sell its 50 percent share of
Modelo's U.S. distributor, Crown Imports, to Constellation
Brands, the world's largest wine company.
The Justice Department said that would be inadequate and
filed a lawsuit on Jan. 31 to stop the transaction.
In the hope of salvaging the deal, AB InBev said last week
that it was willing to sell Modelo's Piedras Negras brewery in
Mexico near the U.S border to Constellation for $2.9 billion and
that it would grant Constellation perpetual rights for Corona
and other Modelo brands in the United States.
The two sides requested a limited stay that would put the
case on hold until March 19, according to a court filing.
"It means they (the Justice Department) need more time to
study it (the revised InBev offer), which means that they're not
rejecting it out of hand. That doesn't mean it's a done deal,"
said Michael Sohn, an antitrust expert with Davis Polk &
The three companies noted the request for a delay in a joint
statement and said they were in talks with the Justice
Department. "There can be no assurance that the discussions will
be successful," they said.
Beverage industry consultant Tom Pirko of Bevmark Consulting
in Santa Barbara, California, said investors should not assume
the parties are close to an agreement.
"It hasn't been solved," he said, adding that issues laid
out in the Justice Department complaint would not be resolved by
the concessions that InBev offered last week.
The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the
District of Columbia. It is United States of America v.
Anheuser-Busch InBev and Grupo Modelo. The case is No.