New Antitrust Division chief Bill Baer’s hardball play against a proposed beer industry merger is yielding more results.
Days after Anheuser-Busch InBev NV announced major concessions in its attempt to purchase the 50 percent of Mexico’s Grupo Modelo SA it doesn’t already own, the world’s largest brewer said it is in settlement talks with the Justice Department, which sued Jan. 31 to block the merger. (See news release.)
Both parties requested stay in the lawsuit until March 19 to conduct talks. “The Antitrust Division is investigating the revised transaction,” department spokeswoman Gina Talamona said.
Constellation Brands Inc., a wine maker that agreed to purchase certain Grupo Modelo assets to satisfy antitrust regulators, is also involved in the talks.
Reaction to the news was varied.
“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,” Michael Sohn of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP told Reuters.
But Allen Grunes, an antitrust lawyer with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP in Washington, told Bloomberg: “This signals serious settlement discussions are underway. If AB InBev can address any remaining government concerns, the path seems clear to a negotiated settlement. This is very positive for the deal.”
United States of America v. Anheuser-Busch InBev and Grupo Modelo was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The case is No. 13-cv-00127.