Anheuser-Busch agrees to sale

The company will reportedly be sold to InBev in a deal that would create the world's biggest brewery.

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Anheuser-Busch reportedly has agreed to be acquired by Belgian brewer InBev for $49.9 billion. The deal being reported by The Wall Street Journal would create the world's largest brewer and put the iconic American beer maker in the hands of the Belgian-based company behind Stella Artois and Beck's beers. (Whitney Curtis / AP)

ST. LOUIS - Anheuser-Busch Cos. reportedly has agreed to be acquired by Belgian brewer InBev for about $52 billion, potentially putting an iconic American brand and several theme parks, including Sesame Place in Langhorne, under foreign ownership.

If approved by shareholders and regulators, the deal, reported by the Wall Street Journal, would create the world's largest brewer. Anheuser-Busch makes Budweiser, among other beers, and controls roughly 48 percent of the U.S. market. Brazilian-Belgian-owned InBev makes Stella Artois and Beck's beers.

The newspaper cited anonymous sources who said that Anheuser-Busch-InBev would be the new company's name and that Anheuser would have two seats on the company board. Anheuser-Busch did not return a message seeking comment yesterday evening.

The newspaper said the deal was for $70 a share. That would be an increase over InBev's original offer, which was rejected in June.

Anheuser-Busch shares had risen $5.29, or 8.6 percent, to close Friday at $66.50 after rising to a 52-week high of $66.55 during the session.

Anheuser-Busch employs about 1,600 people in the Philadelphia region, mostly at Sesame Place, the sprawling water and amusement park based on the Sesame Street characters Ernie, Bert, Elmo and Big Bird.

It is one of 10 parks nationwide owned and operated by the subsidiary Busch Entertainment Corp., which employs about 26,000 full-time and seasonal workers and reported 2007 sales of $1.27 billion, about 8 percent of Anheuser-Busch's net sales. The other parks include SeaWorld and Busch Gardens.

Anheuser-Busch and Sesame Place officials would not speculate on the ultimate ownership of the amusement parks, whether InBev would keep them, or sell all or part to another operator. Last week, before the deal was struck, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted an InBev spokeswoman, Marianne Amssoms, as saying it was "too early in this process" for InBev to have decided.

The newspaper paraphrased Amssoms as saying InBev understood the theme parks' contributions to the areas where they operate and would try to help preserve that role.

Equity analysts have said the company would focus on the beverage business and probably would face pressure to sell the parks. But at the same time, the economic slowdown and tight credit markets might make it difficult for InBev to find a buyer able to afford the parks.

The other large public companies that specialize in theme parks are Six Flags Inc. of New York and Cedar Fair Entertainment Co. of Sandusky, Ohio.

InBev has said that it plans to use St. Louis as its North American headquarters and that it will keep all 12 of Anheuser-Busch's North American breweries open.

InBev has not said whether it would lay off workers as a result of the merger, but cutbacks seem likely.

Even without the merger, Anheuser-Busch said last month it planned to cut pension and health benefits for salaried employees as part of an effort to slash $1 billion in costs by the end of 2010. The plan called for offering early retirement to 1,300 salaried workers 55 and older.

The cost-cutting effort - dubbed "Blue Ocean" by the company - was part of a strategy to fend off the merger.

The merger, if completed, would bring to an end one of the most iconic names in American business, and a name synonymous with St. Louis. From college buildings to offices to the stadium where the Cardinals play, the Busch name is virtually everywhere in the Gateway City.

Eberhard Anheuser acquired the Bavarian brewery in 1860 and renamed it E. Anheuser & Co. His son-in-law, Adolphus Busch, joined the company in 1864, and it was eventually renamed Anheuser-Busch.

The company survived Prohibition by selling ice cream, root beer and other products.