Megabrew bubbly on ice: City faces nervous wait on SABMiller shareholder vote result

William Turvill
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Global Beer Maker Anheuser-Busch InBev Makes Takeover Bid For Rival Miller
SABMiller accepted AB InBev's takeover offer last November (Source: Getty)

The drinks could be flowing at SABMiller next week.

The FTSE 100-listed beer giant agreed to be acquired by AB InBev last November for £44 per share, or £71bn, in one of the biggest deals of a bumper year for global mergers and acquisitions activity.

After years of speculation in the City, the so-called Megabrew deal had finally arrived.

But it hasn’t been the smoothest of processes since then.

Read more: Influential shareholder adviser backs £79bn AB InBev takeover of SABMiller

Thousands of job cuts and an SABMiller de-listing from the London Stock Exchange were immediately put on the table.

The companies have had to sell off numerous brands to satisfy antitrust regulators from across the world.

AB InBev had to improve its offer from £44 to £45 per share in an attempt to appease shareholders unhappy that the original deal had devalued after the Brexit vote (and some investors, such as Aberdeen Asset Management, were still left unhappy).

SABMiller has even had to deal with a High Court battle, which means that next Wednesday the firm will be relying on a shareholder vote from its smaller investors.

The firm’s two biggest shareholders, Bevco, owned by Colombia’s Santo Domingo family, and cigarette maker Altria, have already agreed to the terms of the deal.

But SAB requires 75 per cent approval from the pool of its smaller shareholders. This could prove problematic.

Read more: Big brewer "beerhemoths" are putting the craft beer revival under threat

There are fears that US hedge funds controlling around 20 per cent of SAB shares could unintentionally scupper the deal.

Elliott Management, TCI Fund Management and Davidson Kempner Capital own around 20 per cent of shares through derivatives and stock options, which do not have voting rights, the Wall Street Journal reports. In order to turn these into voting shares, the funds must pay a 0.5 per cent tax, which would total more than £70m between them.

If they do not, this would increase the influence of other shareholders, thereby increasing the chances that a small proportion investors could put an end to the deal.

SABMiller and AB InBev – not to mention the scores of bankers, lawyers and other City advisers working on the deal – are facing a nervous wait.

The bubbly is very much on ice for now.

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