October 6, 2015 / 6:25 AM / 4 years ago

SABMiller points to sales growth as AB InBev weighs bid

LONDON (Reuters) - SABMiller SAB.L, the brewing giant in talks about a potential takeover by rival Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI.BR), reported improved underlying quarterly sales on Tuesday which it said reflected the strength of its long-term business model.

A bartender serves a beer produced by brewing company SAB Miller at a bar in Cape Town, September 16, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

The earlier than expected statement from the maker of beers including Peroni and Grolsch was seen by some analysts as aimed at trying to ensure a higher bid price from AB InBev, maker of Budweiser and Stella Artois.

SAB said it had brought forward its trading update to ensure the timely release of information during what is classed as an offer period.

A U.S. newspaper reported late on Monday that SAB’s management was leaning towards trying to fight off a takeover. The company declined to comment on the New York Post report.

SAB said group revenue, excluding currency effects, rose 6 percent in its second quarter, which ended on Sept 30, while volumes rose 2 percent. That marked an improvement from the first quarter, when revenue rose 3 percent and volume was flat.

The positive picture was clouded by the weakness of a range of currencies against the U.S. dollar, such as the South African rand. Reported group revenue, taking into account currency effects, fell 9 percent in both the first half and second quarter.

“While adverse currency movements have materially impacted our reported results, we have a strong business with exceptional long-term prospects,” Chief Executive Alan Clark said in a statement.

“Our strategic priority of driving superior top-line growth through strengthening our brand portfolios and expanding the beer category is showing clear results.”

Growth was driven by demand in its Latin American and African markets, which are seen as being among the most attractive to AB InBev. Strength in those markets offset declines for SAB in Asia Pacific and North America.

EARLY STATEMENT

The update had been scheduled for Oct. 15, the day after the deadline for AB InBev to make a firm offer for SAB, following disclosure on Sept. 16 of an initial approach.

“Overall this was a good trading statement in our opinion and the timing of it has the potential to ensure ABI has to offer a rich price for the company,” said RBC Capital Markets analysts in a note.

A takeover of SABMiller, the world’s second largest brewer, could cost upwards of 68 billion pounds, according to analysts’ estimates.

Despite the strong performance, SABMiller's shares were down 1 percent at 3725 pence at 0900 GMT, underperforming the FTSE 100 index .FTSE, which was up slightly.

Through Monday’s close, SAB shares are up 25 percent since AB InBev’s takeover approach was revealed. Some of that premium might be coming out of the stock, analysts said, on speculation the deal might not go through, given the latest media report.

“If SAB decides/manages to go it alone, there is modest downside to the stock,” said Morningstar analyst Phil Gorham. “Which, of course, is another argument for shareholders wanting it to go through.”

SAB Chairman Jan du Plessis last year successfully defended miner Rio Tinto (RIO.L), where he is also chairman, against a takeover bid from Glencore (GLEN.L).

Still, SAB is seen as having somewhat limited strategic defense options. It tried to buy Heineken (HEIN.AS) last year but was publicly spurned. Other possible combinations mooted by analysts include Diageo (DGE.L), Carlsberg (CARLb.CO) or Coca-Cola (KO.N), though the likelihood of any of them coming to fruition is unclear.

Additional reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Greg Mahlich and Keith Weir

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