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Anheuser-Busch Sues Belgian Suitor

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Budweiser beer, is suing one of the largest brewing companies in the world. InBev, based in Belgium, owns brands such as Stella Artois and Bass Ale, and it's been in the news recently because of its efforts to take over the Bud brand.

Anheuser-Busch earlier rejected a $46 billion offer from InBev. Matt Sepic is at member-station KWMU in St. Louis; that's where Anheuser-Busch is based. He's been following the story, and he joins us now. Matt, tell us more about this lawsuit.

MATT SEPIC: Well, it was filed today in federal court, and it calls InBev's unsolicited $46 billion offer to buy Anheuser-Busch nothing more than an illegal scheme. A-B says InBev concealed the fact that it does business in Cuba, and that could complicate efforts to do business here in the U.S. because of the embargo, and this follows on the heels of some action that InBev took yesterday.

They went to the SEC, filed papers saying that they want to get rid of the board of directors at Anheuser-Busch.

NORRIS: Now, the idea of InBev taking over Anheuser-Busch, one of the best-known American breweries, is not so popular here in the U.S., and I imagine it's very unpopular there in St. Louis.

SEPIC: That's an understatement. Nobody here likes the idea of this quintessential American brand being owned by a Belgian company that is run by Brazilians. A-B has cultivated this brand image for more than a century, and it's beyond unpopular.

All the major politicians here, from the mayor, both U.S. senators, the governor, say no way. In fact, the Democratic senator, Claire McCaskill from Missouri, met with Carlos Brito a few weeks ago in Washington, had a cold Bud Light with him, and still said no way.

NORRIS: Now A-B, as you call it, Anheuser-Busch, has a family name on it, although it is not a family-controlled company. Tell us about its board of directors.

SEPIC: That's true. The Busch family only owns about four percent of the stock. In fact, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Company owns more than that. There's a board of directors. There's 13 members on it, and two weeks ago they said no way to this deal as well, unanimously voting it down, saying it is not enough. Sixty-five dollars a share does not reflect the true value of Anheuser-Busch.

But now InBev wants to oust that board of directors and put in place its own 13 people, who they say would be more open to a buyout, or as they call it a combination of the two companies.

NORRIS: Is there any talk about shutting down the brewery in St. Louis?

SEPIC: Not at all. People are scared about what InBev might do if they do buy the brewery, buy the company, Anheuser-Busch, as far as cutting jobs, but there's no talk of shutting down the Anheuser-Busch brewery here.

It's an old brewery. Some might say it's obsolete, but it is such an important part of the company's image. The tour is a must-see for anybody who visits St. Louis, right next to the arch, and it's part of that whole image that Anheuser-Busch has cultivated, as I said, for more than a century.

NORRIS: Now, you noted that the Senate delegation has gotten involved in these talks to some degree. Is there any sort of power play that Anheuser-Busch might have up its sleeve to stop this, beyond the lawsuit?

SEPIC: I'm not so sure at this point. What they are doing, though - last week, the managers and the board of directors outlined their own plan to boost shareholder value. That seems to be the name of the game here.

They want to cut a billion dollars in costs in the next year and a half to get that stock price up and make continued ownership, American ownership, more palatable to shareholders.

NORRIS: Matt Sepic, thanks so much.

SEPIC: You're welcome.

NORRIS: That was Matt Sepic of member-station KWMU in St. Louis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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