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AB InBev braves Hong Kong turmoil with second Asia IPO attempt

By Julie Zhu and Lukas Job
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AB InBev braves Hong Kong turmoil with second Asia IPO attempt

FILE PHOTO: The logo of AB InBev is pictured outside the brewer's headquarters in Leuven

By Julie Zhu and Lukas Job

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Anheuser-Busch InBev NV will brave jittery Hong Kong markets in a second attempt to spin off its Asian business on Wednesday, aiming to raise up to $6.6 billion in what could be the world's second largest IPO this year.

The brewing giant, which in July tried to raise up to $9.8 billion through an initial public offering (IPO) of Budweiser Brewing Company APAC Ltd, said on Tuesday it would offer 1.3 billion shares at between HK$27 and HK$30 ($3.45-$3.83) apiece.

The flotation will be a test of investor appetite following anti-government protests that have roiled Hong Kong for nearly four months and have weighed on the stock market.

Markets more generally are also on edge amid a trade dispute between the United States and China and slowing global growth, with the owner of U.S. office-sharing startup WeWork postponing its U.S. IPO on Monday.

If completed, Budweiser APAC's IPO would provide a boost for Hong Kong after China's Alibaba Group Holding Ltd last month delayed a listing worth up to $15 billion amid the unrest in the former British colony.

"You could say that the conditions are more challenging, but when we listen to potential investors we believe that there is solid excitement about this business and its IPO," said Jan Craps, CEO of Budweiser APAC.

The new Budweiser APAC offering includes a rare "upsize" option that will enable the company to sell up to 36.8% more shares. Assuming it exercises the option in full at the top end of the price range, the sale could raise up to $6.6 billion before any regular overallotment option is included.

Belgium-based AB InBev would raise up to $4.8 billion without the upsize option. The flotation would hand between 9.5% and 15% of Budweiser APAC to public shareholders.

Even at the low end of the price range, the IPO would be the second biggest globally this year, trailing the $8.1 billion flotation of Uber Technologies Inc in May, data from Refinitiv shows.

So far this year, companies have raised $10.8 billion in IPOs in Hong Kong - well short of the $41 billion raised in New York, according to Refinitiv data.

Proceeds will help AB InBev, the world's largest brewer, reduce debts of more than $100 billion, accumulated following the purchase of rival SABMiller in late 2016.

However, the beer maker also has another goal - creating an Asian champion to spur consolidation. Analysts see the brewing assets of privately held San Miguel of the Philippines or of ThaiBev as possible partners or targets.


QUICK AUSTRALIA SALE

AB InBev's revived deal excludes the brewer's Australian operations, which it agreed to sell to Japan's Asahi Group for $11 billion shortly after the IPO was shelved.

Without Australia, a large but mature market, AB InBev's Asia-Pacific operations would be more focused on faster growth markets such as China, India and Vietnam, which could make it easier to achieve a higher valuation, sources have said.

AB InBev shares have risen some 12% since it shelved the previous IPO attempt. The company blamed that decision on market conditions, among other factors. But sources involved in the deal said investors were unwilling to accept AB InBev's valuation for Budweiser APAC.

The new IPO price range for the business, whose portfolio of more than 50 beer brands includes Stella Artois and Corona, equates to a market capitalization of $45.6 billion-$50.7 billion, the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

Analysts at Bernstein Securities said this represented a 6%-15% discount to its enterprise value on a 12-month forward basis of $52 billion.

AB InBev has said it will cut its net debt to core profit (EBITDA) ratio to below four times by the end of 2020 from 4.6 at the end of June, without the impact of the Australian sale or the Asian IPO. It says its optimal rate is two.

Jefferies analysts forecast the ratio will drop to about 3.3 by the end of 2020, including the two deals.

Budweiser APAC is set to price the IPO on Sept. 23 and the stock will debut on Sept. 30, the company statement said, adding it had lined up Singapore's sovereign wealth fund, GIC Pte Ltd, to invest $1 billion in the IPO.

JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley are the joint sponsors of the flotation.

($1 = 7.8230 Hong Kong dollars)


(Reporting by Julie Zhu and Lukas Job; additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, Writing by Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing by Louise Heavens and Mark Potter)