Anheuser-Busch, Modelo in merger talks: report

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Anheuser-Busch Cos Inc BUD.N has had preliminary talks with Mexican brewer Grupo Modelo SAB de CV GMODELOC.MX about a possible tie-up that could thwart an unsolicited takeover bid by InBev NV INTB.BR, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

Citing people familiar with the matter, the newspaper said Anheuser approached Carlos Fernandez, chief executive of Modelo and an Anheuser director, about a deal after news surfaced that InBev was weighing a bid for Anheuser.

Modelo declined to comment, and Anheuser was not immediately available. But Anheuser, which said Wednesday it received a $46.3 billion takeover bid from Belgium’s InBev, has repeatedly declined to comment. It cited its policy to not confirm, deny or speculate on rumors.

Modelo, maker of Negra Modelo and Corona Extra, is 50 percent owned by Anheuser, though the St. Louis-based brewer of Budweiser and Michelob has no role in managing the company.

Since Anheuser’s management is widely thought to oppose a takeover by InBev, analysts have said it could seek to buy the other half of Modelo to make itself too big for InBev to buy.

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One analyst, who declined to be named, said the remaining half of Modelo would be worth about $11 billion.

“We think Anheuser had one major lever for driving a higher price ... convincing Mexico’s Grupo Modelo to agree to a merger,” wrote Credit Suisse analyst Carlos Laboy in a research note on Thursday.

“However, it now appears to be too late if shareholder approval is required to make such a deal happen,” Laboy wrote, indicating that Anheuser shareholders may be more inclined to push for a takeover that gives them a significant premium than the acquisition.

In an interview on June 6, Modelo CEO Fernandez said he was unaware of any merger talks between Anheuser and InBev. When asked whether he thought Modelo would retain its independence over the next year, he said: “Based on what we have seen today, yes.”

Another analyst said Modelo could seek to buy back Anheuser’s 50 percent stake, thereby making the U.S. brewer less attractive.

Reporting by Martinne Geller in New York and Chris Aspin in Mexico City; editing by Carol Bishopric/Jeffrey Benkoe