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Anheuser-Busch sale approved

The distinctly American Anheuser-Busch brand soon will belong to Belgium-based InBev.

Associated Press

The distinctly American Anheuser-Busch brand soon will belong to Belgium-based InBev.

Shareholders of Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. approved the $52-billion sale of the business to Belgium's InBev SA on Wednesday.

The deal, which is expected to close by year's end, would create the world's largest brewer and is expected to trigger the sale of Anheuser-Busch's theme park unit. That includes Busch Gardens Africa and Adventure Island in Tampa.

Combined, the 10 Busch parks and its recycling business could be worth up to $5-billion, analysts have said.

Wednesday's vote was the latest step necessary to form the company that will be known as Anheuser-Busch InBev and combine brands such as Bud Light and Budweiser with Stella Artois and Beck's. The deal is subject to regulatory approval in the United States, Britain and China.

August A. Busch IV, Anheuser-Busch's president and chief executive, said the decision to sell the nation's largest brewer was a difficult one.

"Every alternative was considered," he told shareholders at the meeting just outside of New York. "In the end, we all agreed the InBev proposal was in the best interest of you, the shareholders."

The new company brings about the end of the more than 150 years of family rule of the St. Louis company, though the newly combined company's North American headquarters will stay there. InBev has said it will keep open all 12 of Anheuser-Busch's North American breweries.

Busch will move into a non-executive role, but will be on the new company's board. He said he was excited about the future of the new company, especially expanding the brands worldwide, which he said helps in "fulfilling the global ambition of my family."

Not all shareholders were pleased, though.

Shareholder Rebecca Mance of Danville, Calif., cried after the vote and told shareholders it marked the end of an era.

"There is something here that matters more than money," Mance said, adding "market share will dwindle."

"I am a consumer and in truth I won't buy it anymore," she said of the company's brands.

Anheuser-Busch agreed this summer to accept the buyout from InBev worth $70 a share. InBev shareholders approved the deal in September.

The sale price is a premium to Anheuser-Busch shareholders over the company's current stock price. On Wednesday, its shares were down 8 cents to $66.92. InBev said last week it will not reduce or change its $70-a-share offer, even though Anheuser-Busch's share price has dropped amid larger market turmoil.

The deal gives InBev a key to the U.S. market, where Anheuser-Busch dominates with about a 50 percent share. InBev, meanwhile, has a small fraction. It also gives the company about one-fifth of the markets in China and Russia, two areas poised for growth.

InBev has said it wants to tap into Anheuser-Busch's marketing power and make its top-selling Budweiser and Bud Light brands into global powerhouses like Coca-Cola or Pepsi.

About 100 people attended the meeting Wednesday, among them longtime worker shareholders.

Mark Dingelstedt, who retired in January after working for 25 years in production at Anheuser-Busch's Newark, N.J., facility, said although he will "make a few dollars" on the deal, he was sad to see the brewer be taken over by an international company.

"We used to be the great American beer company," he said. "We're going to lose that, I feel."

InBev brands

• Stella Artois

• Bass

• Brahma

• Hoegaarden

• Staropramen

• Leffe

• Beck's

Anheuser-Busch brands

• Budweiser

• Bud Light

• Michelob

• Busch

• Natural Ice

Anheuser-Busch sale approved 11/12/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 14, 2008 9:19pm]

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