Brewing Giant Planning Biggest IPO of the Year

Anheuser-Busch InBev is hoping to raise $9.8 billion from a Hong Kong listing of its Asia-pacific unit.
Brewing Giant Planning Biggest IPO of the Year

Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) is hoping to raise up to $9.8 billion by listing shares of its Asian Pacific subsidiary on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

This step to tap Asia’s thirst would make it the world’s largest initial public offering in 2019, leapfrogging the $8.1 billion raised by Uber.

In the IPO, the world’s largest brewer plans to sell 1.6 billion new shares in its Asia unit at HK$40 to $47 ($5.12-$6.02) each, representing around 15% of its enlarged share capital. The total funds raised could increase to as much as $11.2 billion if an option to sell 15% more stock is exercised.

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The company carries more than $100 billion in debt after its 2016 purchase of its nearest rival SABMiller, and the IPO would help reduce this hefty debt.

Analysts estimate that AB InBev’s business — which includes China, India, South Korea, and Australia — is valued at $40 billion to $50 billion, with a market valuation of about $130 million.

On Tuesday, the company said its first-quarter earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, rose 8.2% on an organic basis of $4.99 billion, beating analysts’ forecasts of a 7.9% gain.

During the past decade, AB InBev has grown its China operation from a fringe business to one of its top five markets, explained Carlos Brito, chief executive officer.

After establishing Budweiser as a leading premium brand there, even pricier, higher-margin brands such as Corona and Stella Artois were introduced. Brito explained that this was through a new distribution system that delivers to restaurants and bars that are frequented by more affluent customers.

“The Chinese that are more affluent are going from traditional Chinese channels to more Western,” Brito said. “So white-tablecloth restaurant as opposed to traditional Chinese restaurant, pubs as opposed to traditional karaoke lounges.”

Last year, AB InBev’s Asia-Pacific region, with main markets of China and Australia, made up 18% of group volume and 14% of underlying operating profit. Its revenues were $8.57 billion.

The primary merit of a Hong Kong listing is to create “a champion in the Asia-Pacific,” where sales are still growing and increasingly wealthy consumers are buying higher-margin premium beers, including Corona and Budweiser.

In early May, Felipe Dutra, AB InBev chief financial officer, told Reuters that a parallel could be drawn with the Brazilian subsidiary AmBev, of which AB InBev owns 61.9%, and is now available in 16 countries, including Argentina and Canada.

“Not only is it an attractive region from an investor standpoint, but is a kind of exposure that some existing shareholders of existing operations in the region might be willing to be part of,” said Dutra.

“In addition to paying down debt, the deal provides AB InBev with a ‘platform for M&A’ whereby local brewers such as ThaiBev might prefer to tie up with a locally focused player in an Asian currency,” said Nico von Stackelberg of Liberum.

J.P. Morgan Securities (Far East) and Morgan Stanley Asia Limited are listed as joint sponsors for the potential IPO.