AB InBev, SABMiller merger likely to face long delays in South Africa

The merger of the world’s two largest beer companies, the Belgian-based AB InBev and South Africa’s SABMiller could face significant delays in South Africa because of the country’s lengthy process of granting approvals.

Trevor Stirling, an analyst at Bernstein, an investment firm, said recently that getting approval from the South African regulatory authorities could delay the completion of the merger by up to 18-months, if not more. He cites as examples, two previous merger agreements in the country, the Walmart/MassMart merger, which took 18-months to complete, and a three-way merger between SABMiller’s South African soft drinks business, the Coca-Cola Company’s South African operation with Coca-Cola SABCO, which is still awaiting regulatory approval.

Mr. Stirling said that South African regulator’s public interest mandate could force AB InBev to make concessions such as assurances on small and medium sized suppliers and the spread of ownership.

South Africa “may be the slowest process, likely taking a minimum of 12-months and potentially up to 18-months or longer before final clearance,” he said.

South Africa has a three-tier regulatory authority over mergers and acquisitions – the competition commission, the competition tribunal and the competition appeal court.

In the case of the Walmart acquisition of MassMart, a South African mass-merchandiser in 2010, it took another 18 months before the deal was finally approved. At first the competition commission recommended the merger be approved without conditions, but after opposition from the government and unions, the competition tribunal imposed conditions relating to redundancies, labour agreements and suppliers.

In March 2012, 18-months after the merger was announced, the competition appeal court finally gave their approval, however, with tightened conditions, including the reinstatement of 500 workers sacked before the transaction.

More recent example with SABMiller’s agreement to merge its South Africa soft drinks business with that of the Coca-Cola Company and Coca-Cola SABCO to form what would be known as the Coca-Cola Beverages Africa is still awaiting regulatory approval. The approval is not likely to come until May 2016, 18-months after the merger was originally announced.

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