By Nqobile Dludla
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa cleared Anheuser-Busch Inbev’s <ABI.BR> $100 billion-plus deal to acquire SABMiller <SAB.L> on Thursday, putting the world’s largest brewer “on track” to complete the merger within the next six months.
The Competition Tribunal, which gives the final word on mergers in Africa’s most industrialized country, said in a statement that concessions made by AB InBev to get the deal approved were designed to address both public interest and competition concerns arising from the merger.
The merger will bring together AB InBev’s Budweiser, Stella Artois and Corona brands with SABMiller’s Peroni, Grolsch and Pilsner Urquell and brew almost a third of the world’s beer, dwarfing rivals Heineken <HEIN.AS> and Carlsberg <CARLb.CO.>
Having secured South Africa’s approval for the deal AB InBev Chief Executive Carlos Brito said it was on track to close the merger in the second half of 2016, adding that South Africa was “a market that would play a critical role in the combined company.”
Brito said AB InBev would live up to its commitments on jobs and employment, seeking local inputs and stick to plans meant to give blacks a larger role in the business.
AB InBev shares were suspended before the announcement.
The takeover would be the largest made of a British-based company and the fourth-biggest overall of any corporation.
Analysts and investors who have been nervous about opposition from the unions in South Africa and expected delays from the regulators breathed a sigh of relief after the announcement.
“The reality is that this is a big company that cannot afford to get this deal delayed. It’s great news that it’s all done and dusted,” said Lentus Asset Management chief investment officer Nic Norman Smith.
“Government’s job should be to get out of the way of businesses as much as possible and let capital flow. The less delays and involvement they have the better for everybody.”
As part of the conditions, the Tribunal ruled that no South African employee could be laid off for five years after the merger.
Other conditions to the tie-up include a requirement that the merged entity sell off SAB’s stake in liquor maker Distell <DSTJ.J> as well as invest 1 billion rand ($68 million) in South African agriculture and enterprise development.
The conditions outlined by the Tribunal were largely unchanged from those recommended by its sister watchdog Competition Commission in May.
Since the deal was announced in November, AB InBev has completed a secondary listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, lined up debt financing and addressed anti-trust concerns in the United States, Europe and China with proposed asset sales.
The two key approvals required are by the United States and China, although the proposed disposals there are expected to lead to clearance. Australia and Europe have already given their blessing to the deal.
($1 = 14.7585 rand)
(Editing by James Macharia, Greg Mahlich)