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InBev buys Anheuser for £26bn

US brewer Anheuser-Busch accepted a sweetened $52bn (£26bn) takeover bid from Belgium-based InBev to create the world's largest beer maker and end a month-long standoff.

InBev, which makes Stella Artois and Beck's, agreed to pay $70 per share for the maker of Budweiser, up from its original unsolicited bid of $65 per share, both companies said today. The improved offer marked a 27 per cent premium to Anheuser's record-high stock price in October 2002.

The deal, which analysts expect to gain regulatory approval, would be the largest in the industry and the third-biggest ever foreign takeover of a US company.

The combined company Anheuser-Bush InBev would have about $36.4bn in annual net sales, about 40 per cent in the United States, and would brew about a quarter of the world's beer. InBev Chief Executive Carlos Brito will be CEO of the new company while Anheuser will get two seats on its board.

Brito said in a webcast the beauty of the deal lay in adding Anheuser's near 50 per cent share of the US market and in taking its Budweiser brand global.

"It's about complementarity, not about overlap," he said.

Anheuser's home town of St Louis, Missouri, will be the headquarters for the North American region and the global home of the flagship Budweiser brand. The companies said all of Anheuser 12 US breweries would remain open.

The deal brings an amicable resolution to a month-long saga that was becoming increasingly hostile as the companies traded lawsuits and InBev set the stage to replace Anheuser's board.

Anheuser Chief Executive August Busch IV had said he would not sell the company and Brito said he would not go higher.

InBev shares were up 3.4 per cent at €46.02 in mid-morning trading today.

The companies said the combination would yield cost synergies of at least $1.5bn annually by 2011, to be phased in equally over three years.

InBev will finance its purchase with $45 in debt, including $7bn bridge financing for divestitures. It also has six months to determine additional equity financing with a further bridge of up to $9.8bn set up.

After the merger InBev will regain the world brewing top spot it lost last year to SABMiller, which was boosted by strong growth in China and the purchase of Grolsch.

It is also the latest mega deal in the fast consolidating beer industry, with Scottish & Newcastle having agreed to be broken up by Carlsberg and Heineken.