UK: Comment - Interbrew: yet more competition concerns
The EU antitrust authorities have raised concerns over Interbrew's acquisition of Beck's. Just weeks after the Bass saga was finally resolved, Interbrew's UK strength is causing regulatory problems again.
Interbrew's archrival Scottish & Newcastle has the UK rights to distribute Beck's until 2012, but nonetheless the regulator is concerned about potential monopolistic or collusive behaviour. An investigation could delay the acquisition for months.
Only weeks after the final resolution of the Bass/Whitbread saga, in which Interbrew was forced to sell the Carling brand to reduce the company's share of the overall UK beer market, the Belgian company's acquisitions may once again spark an antitrust investigation.
In August this year, Interbrew agreed to pay £1.2 billion for Brauerai Beck's, as international brewers begin to enter the previously closed German market. Indeed, the Beck's deal represents the first major international purchase in the German beer market.
Interbrew is now in a strong, first-mover position within the German market, with key local brands in the premium lager and specialty beer categories, in addition to Interbrew's vast international portfolio.
However, the EU's competition authorities have raised concern that
Interbrew's ownership of both Stella Artois and Beck's, two of the most popular premium beer brands in the UK, may give the company excessive monopoly power in the UK premium beer market. The concerns come even though Scottish and Newcastle currently holds the distribution rights for Beck's in the UK
Even though S&N will keep the distribution rights until 2012, the regulator has given indication that the potential for price fixing by Interbrew, or duopolistic behaviour by the two leading brewers, is sufficient to spark a four month investigation. Interbrew confirmed that it had offered "limited concessions" to the Brussels regulator but added that it was normal practice for rival brewers to work together under licensing agreements.
The EU has two weeks to decide whether to let the deal pass or launch an investigation. After a year of regulatory uncertainty over Bass, Interbrew's investors may have to hold their breath a little longer.
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