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UPDATE: Anheuser-Busch reportedly will reject InBev's offer

Wednesday, June 25, 2008 | 7:31 p.m. CDT; updated 3:11 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Brewer InBev SA on Wednesday pressed Anheuser-Busch for an answer on its $46 billion takeover offer, and the maker of Budweiser beer was prepared to reject the offer, according to a published report.

The Belgium-based maker of Stella Artois said it wrote to Anheuser-Busch again on Wednesday to assure the company’s board that it has struck deals with a group of banks and has already paid commitment fees to finance the takeover over.

Anheuser-Busch has not formally responded to InBev since it first made an offer for $65 per share on June 11.

The Wall Street Journal reported on its Web site late Wednesday that Anheuser-Busch is prepared to reject the offer, setting the stage for a hostile takeover battle.

In fact, The Journal reported that InBev is prepared to take its offer directly to Anheuser-Busch shareholders via a tender offer.

Anheuser-Busch is expected to argue that InBev’s offer undervalues the St. Louis-based brewer, the Journal reported. Anheuser-Busch also will present its own strategic plan that is likely to include the sale of noncore assets such as its theme parks and packaging business, the Journal reported, citing unnamed people familiar with the matter.

Anheuser-Busch spokeswoman Brenda Williams said the company had no comment on the report. The company has declined to comment on InBev’s proposal since it was made, except for a brief letter from Anheuser-Busch Chief Executive August Busch IV, which said the board of directors would make its decision in “due course.”

Meanwhile, InBev says it has paid $50 million in commitment fees to a lending group that includes Banco Santander, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, Barclays Capital, BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank, Fortis, ING Bank, JP Morgan, Mizuho Corporate Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland.

InBev CEO Carlos Brito made another plea for the support of Anheuser-Busch’s board for an agreed takeover but stressed time was running out.

“This firm proposal is subject only to the negotiation of mutually satisfactory definitive agreements,” he said. “We are committed to entering into a constructive dialogue with you to achieve a friendly combination.”

But Brito warned that “time is of the essence.”

InBev made no move to raise the offer, insisting that market reaction to its bid “has been extremely positive” and the offer would give shareholders an immediate cash premium of 35 percent above the 30-day average share price before recent market speculation.

The $65 offer for each share is also 18 percent above Anheuser-Busch’s previous all-time share price high in October 2002, it said.

A number of politicians and other groups have come out against the deal, saying it may create a near-monopoly in the U.S. beer market and there are fears of American job losses.

Anheuser-Busch spokeswoman Maureen Roth declined to comment on the letter.

Brito repeated in the letter that InBev would not shut any U.S. breweries and would help sell Budweiser beer globally. St. Louis would remain the company’s North American headquarters and “global home of the flagship Budweiser brand,” he said.

Anheuser-Busch management would be retained at all senior levels and Anheuser‑Busch board members would be invited to join the board of the new combined company.

Together the two businesses would form “one of the world’s five largest consumer-goods companies,” he said.

The beer industry has been consolidating in recent years amid costs for transport fuel and key ingredients and slowing demand in wealthy markets in Europe and the United States. InBev has partly bucked that trend by expanding in Latin America, eastern Europe and Asia.

InBev itself is a product of a major takeover when Brazil’s AmBev took over Belgium’s Interbrew in 2004. Both Brito and the company’s CFO came from AmBev, bringing with them a tight control on finances that has upped InBev’s profits.

Anheuser-Busch shares rose 63 cents to $61.76 Wednesday. InBev fell about 1.1 percent to 46.30 euros ($72.48).

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Associated Press business writer Christopher Leonard in St. Louis contributed to this report.

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