The world’s leading brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev said Friday it is selling its assets in Australia – including the Foster’s beer brand – to pay down debt following a failed IPO.
Brussels-listed AB InBev, owner of 500 brands including Stella Artois and Budweiser, announced it was divesting Carlton & United Breweries for 16 billion Australian dollars (£9 billion) to Japanese group Asahi Holdings.
The sell-off is widely regarded as AB InBev’s plan B after the company surprised markets last week by suspending what would have been the world’s biggest stock sale this year.
A Belgian-Brazilian behemoth built over decades of deal-making, AB InBev is saddled with more than $100 billion in debt, much of it stemming from its blockbuster 2016 acquisition of SABMiller.
AB InBev said the last-minute sale, which also hands Australian distribution rights for its brands to Asahi, would help trim its debt load.
“Substantially all of the proceeds from the divestiture of the Australian business will be used by the company to pay down debt,” a statement said.
This sale could lead to others, according to the Wall Street Journal, which mentioned possible deals in South Korea and Central America.
“We have no comment at that level,” said a spokeswoman for AB InBev.
On Monday, AB InBev had planned to list its Asia-Pacific subsidiary, Budweiser Brewing Company APAC, on the Hong Kong stockmarket and raise around $10 billion.
It cancelled the IPO, citing “prevailing market conditions” amid widespread reports that share-buyers were put-off by the asking price.
“There was a lack of investor interest,” Marc Ernaelsteen, senior analyst at the Belgian asset management company Puilaetco Dewaay, told AFP.
“The valuation was much too expensive,” he said.
Asahi has been buying beer brands on several continents, including British company Fuller’s in January that added to other European brands such as Peroni, Grolsch and Pilsner Urquell.
Many of these were divestments imposed on AB InBev by regulators over its mega merger with SAB Miller, in which the Belgian-Brazilian also landed Carlton & United.
Carlton & United, which also sells Victoria Bitter, accounts for almost half the beer market in Australia, according to Bloomberg.
AB InBev has signalled that the world’s largest beer market, China, is a key focus of the company’s efforts to boost growth, particularly given the increasingly challenging conditions prevailing in its traditional markets — Europe, the US and Brazil.
In a statement, AB InBev CEO Carlos Brito said the Asia Pacific “remains a growth engine within our company”.
Analysts at Euromonitor, a market research firm, underlined the importance of China for upmarket beer brands.
“While total beer volumes in China are forecast to continue to decline over the next five years, premium lager is expected to record high single-digit growth over the same period,” said analyst Anna Ward.
“AB InBev is well placed to capitalise on this upmarket shift as it leads the premium lager category in China with a considerable 43 percent volume share,” she said.
AB InBev saw its profit drop by 14.7 percent to $6.8 billion last year but it expects strong growth this year.