South Africa Regulator Unlikely to Meet SABMiller Deadline

  • Competition Commission given probe extension until April 12
  • Economic Development Minister Patel has asked to participate

South Africa’s Competition Commission probably won’t meet a new April 12 deadline to complete an investigation into Anheuser-Busch InBev NV’s takeover of SABMiller Plc, further delaying the process of gaining regulatory approval for a combination of the world’s biggest brewers.

“It’s unlikely that the case will be completed by the 12th,” Itumeleng Lesofe, spokesman for the Pretoria-based antitrust regulator, said by phone Thursday. “There are still issues that need to be considered,” he said, declining to provide specifics.

The antitrust agency needs to make a recommendation about the deal to South Africa’s Competition Tribunal, which is among regulatory authorities across the world that must sign off on the $105 billion takeover. The Commission’s previous deadline was on April 5. The maker of Budweiser has said it plans to complete the deal by the end of the year.

“We remain hopeful that there will be no unnecessary delays in South Africa, particularly as it is widely accepted that there are no competition issues,” AB InBev spokeswoman Karen Couck said in e-mailed comments. The Leuven, Belgium-based company agreed to the April 12 extension and “hope matters can be finalized shortly,” she said.

Minister Involvement

Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel has filed a notice with the Competition Commission of his intention to participate in the proceedings, Lesofe said. He can get involved at any time, including at the Tribunal stage, he said. A spokesman for the ministry didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Patel’s involvement could “further delay the proceedings,” Mike Davies, founder of the political advisory company Kigoda Consulting, said by phone from Cape Town. That’s “based on how his department intervened in the Wal-Mart-Massmart deal.”

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s biggest retailer, took 18 months to gain approval to buy a controlling stake in Johannesburg-based Massmart Holdings Ltd. in 2011 and agreed to set up a supplier-support fund worth as much as 200 million rand ($13.2 million) as one of the conditions. SABMiller’s deal to merge its African soft-drink bottling assets with those of Coca-Cola Co. won’t be heard by the Competition Tribunal until next month -- 18 months after the agreement was announced.

SABMiller shares gained in London before declining 0.2 percent to 4,215 pence as of 2:49 p.m. That values the company at 68.3 billion pounds.

The drinks maker, which started selling beer to gold miners in Johannesburg in 1895, controls 90 percent of South Africa’s market.

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