Interbrew is rumoured to be planning a bid for South African Breweries (SAB). SAB would be a good target for Interbrew, and the Belgian firm  s highly likely to make more acquisitions soon.  owever, it would be a mistake to read too much into the rumours. Interbrew is likely to have made the leak on purpose, but it is too early to work out its intentions. Whatever they are, they are unlikely to be as the document says.

Belgian brewer Interbrew may be planning a bid for SAB. According to documents seen by the Financial Times, Interbrew is preparing an offer that could be announced as early as December 3.

The merged company would be the world's second-largest brewer by volume, just behind Anheuser-Busch. However, Interbrew says that the documents were part of routine competitor analysis, and while it has not ruled out a bid, it has not made an approach to the South African brewer.

According to the documents seen by the FT, the bid would be partly to prevent a three-way merger between SAB, the UK's Scottish & Newcastle, and the US' Miller. Tie-ups between S&N and both companies have long been rumoured, particularly as Miller's parent Philip Morris is known to be considering a disposal. The combination would create a serious rival for Interbrew.

SAB would be a good partner for an international brewer. As developed beer markets stagnate, the developing world has become a key growth opportunity. SAB is the most successful foreign brewer in China, on top of its African interests and its latest major acquisitions in Latin America. It also has better knowledge of how to work in emerging markets than most companies.

Interbrew has certainly been highly acquisitive, and is likely to make further acquisitions. S&N could do with an international partner (or two), reducing its dependence on its UK dominance. However, it would be a mistake to take the story literally. The other major players will have similar documents on SAB; Interbrew will have similar documents on other targets.

The leak is likely to be a deliberate move by Interbrew: the company is highly strategically conscious. But whether it is a case of sounding out opinion, or forcing S&N and SAB's hands before they are ready is hard to tell. Interbrew may even be trying to improve the price it gets for Carling, by encouraging SAB to buy the brand and make life harder for would-be predators with UK operations.

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