InBev, Justice Department seek delay in courtroom beer fight

Wed Feb 20, 2013 8:13pm EST
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By Diane Bartz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department and Anheuser-Busch InBev ABI.BR, which have been embroiled in a court fight over whether AB InBev can expand its stake in Mexican brewer Grupo Modelo, asked a court on Wednesday for a short delay as the two sides hold settlement talks.

AB InBev, the world's largest brewer, has 200 brands ranging from big names like Budweiser and Stella Artois to craft-style beers like Shock Top and Goose Island.

AB InBev wants to buy the 50 percent of Modelo it does not already own for $20.1 billion, but in a nod to antitrust concerns the company said it would sell its 50 percent share of Modelo's U.S. distributor, Crown Imports, to Constellation Brands STZ.N, the world's largest wine company.

The Justice Department said that would be inadequate and filed a lawsuit on January 31 to stop the transaction.

In the hope of salvaging the deal, AB InBev said last week that it was willing to sell Modelo's Piedras Negras brewery in Mexico near the U.S. border to Constellation for $2.9 billion and that it would grant Constellation perpetual rights for Corona and other Modelo brands in the United States.

The two sides requested a limited stay that would put the case on hold until March 19, according to a court filing.

"It means they (the Justice Department) need more time to study it (the revised InBev offer), which means that they're not rejecting it out of hand. That doesn't mean it's a done deal," said Michael Sohn, an antitrust expert with Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP.

The three companies noted the request for a delay in a joint statement and said they were in talks with the Justice Department. "There can be no assurance that the discussions will be successful," they said.   Continued...

The logo of Anheuser-Busch InBev is seen on the facade of its headquarters in Leuven June 25, 2012. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir