Limited hangover for AB InBev after beer IPO goes flat

Alex PIGMAN with Patrice NOVOTNY in London
The share price for the beer giant behind Stella Artois and Budweiser, AB InBev, its CEO Carlos Brito pictured in a file image, showed limited spillover from a shock decision to call time on what would have been the year's largest stock sale

The share price for the beer giant behind Stella Artois and Budweiser showed limited spillover on Monday from a shock decision to call time on what would have been the year's largest stock sale.

Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's biggest brewer, had hoped to raise almost $10 billion from a listing of shares in its Asia-Pacific subsidiary in Hong Kong, before it backed out at the last minute on Friday.

Shares in AB InBev ended the day with a 0.62 percent drop in Brussels, after losing as much as 2.8 percent early in the session.

Abandoning the initial public offering was an embarrassment for the global company, which is officially headquartered in Belgium but whose hard-charging CEO Carlos Brito works out of an office in New York.

"It's a blow," said Nicholas Hyett, Equity Analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown in London.

"AB Inbev had hoped to use the proceeds from the IPO to cut debt which has remained high since the purchase of SAB Miller," he said.

The company, whose share price has dropped 12 percent in 12 months, had looked to the dynamic Asian market to replenish depleted coffers after its blockbuster merger in 2016 with SAB Miller, a $107 billion deal.

AB InBev became the global beer leader with that and other mergers -- including the tie-up with Anheuser Bush in 2008 -- accumulating a colossal pile of $102 billion in net debt in the process.

The debt mountain has put AB InBev under intense pressure, with Standard & Poor's slapping the company with a negative outlook and a lower investment grade compared to its rivals.

"We do feel that there are better places to be invested within beer, such as Carlsberg or Heineken," Jefferies International analyst Ed Mundy told Bloomberg Television before the company announced the suspension of the listing.

In a statement on Friday the company said that the cancellation was due to "prevailing market conditions", without entering into details.

The Belgian-Brazilian group's IPO would have been the biggest in the world since Uber's listing earlier this year raised $8.1 billion -- even if that could be easily surpassed as Chinese online retail titan Alibaba considers its own Hong Kong listing.

"The option of an IPO at a later date is still there so this is more of a setback than a disaster," analyst Hyett cautioned.

The move is a blow to Hong Kong, which has been battling to win listings by big international firms at a time of trade tensions between China and the United States.

It also comes after a month of mass protests in the city over a controversial extradition bill.

Alibaba is reportedly looking to raise an eye-watering $20 billion, which would be the biggest in Hong Kong since insurance firm AIA raised $20.5 billion.

The Chinese online marketplace raised $25 billion when it listed in New York five years ago, making it the world's biggest IPO.