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Anheuser-Busch Signals Possible Merger With SABMiller

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The world's two largest beer makers may be merging. Today, the Belgian company Anheuser-Busch InBev signaled its intent to buy London-based SABMiller. This would bring together some of the world's most famous beer brands, including Budweiser, Miller, Beck's and Coors. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: The deal would create a single beer maker that controls nearly a third of the world market, a company valued at around $275 billion. Olly Wehring is managing director of justdrinks.com

OLLY WEHRING: This is the No. 1 brewer with brands that are very well recognized. You've got Stella Artois. You've got Beck's and, you know, very strong leadership in big, growing beer markets like Brazil trying to buy the No. 2 brewer.

ZARROLI: This is the latest big merger involving AB InBev. The company has been steadily buying up other beer makers in recent years. And the beer market is no longer growing much in many places such as the United States, but sales have been doing well in parts of the developing world, such as Africa. And buying up beer makers is a way of gaining market shares in those areas. Eric Schmidt is with the research firm Technomic.

ERIC SCHMIDT: This opens up new regions and new countries and new opportunities for them in countries where they don't really play.

ZARROLI: But Schmidt says the deal is likely to raise significant anti-trust concerns, especially in China and the U.S. where the new company would have an outsized presence. The company would control about four-fifths of the U.S. beer market. Among other things, it would have a big stake in the joint venture Molson Coors.

SCHMIDT: That's going to be - have to be divested because the Justice Department will not allow an 80 percent share of the U.S. beer market by one company.

ZARROLI: The deal announced today is still in its early stages. AB InBev will have to release the terms of its offer within a month and then SABMiller will have to respond. The company has rebuffed other merger offers before, and it's not at all clear it will look more favorably on this one. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.