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Anheuser-Busch Passes on Craft Brew Alliance: What Now?

By Rich Duprey – Aug 26, 2019 at 5:02PM

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The craft brewer still has a lot of growth options.

Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD -2.60%) said thanks, but no thanks, and has opted not to exercise its option to buy the remaining shares of Craft Brew Alliance (BREW) that it doesn't already own. 

Although there were a number of good reasons the megabrewer could have (and arguably should have) bought the craft brewer, Anheuser-Busch instead chose to pay it $20 million as required by a commercial agreement the two signed in 2016. Craft Brew Alliance said it will hold a conference call on Sept. 5 to discuss what it will do from here.

Shares of the craft brewer cratered 15% on the news, but investors who like consumer goods stocks may want to take a closer look now that its stock is so cheap. There's a good case to be made that it is an attractive buy now.

Two bottles and a glass of Kona Brewing beer

Image source: Kona Brewing.

Just as it ever was

Nothing changes for Craft Brew. The master distribution agreement with Anheuser-Busch remains in place through 2028, as do the agreements for contract brewing and international distribution, which remain intact through 2026. The gains the craft brewer has been making through its successful Kona+ growth strategy ought to continue as they were.

No doubt activist investor Midwood Capital Management will renew its call for Craft Brew to sell itself, but that's not necessarily the best option, and it may resist such a push.

The craft beer industry is a much different place than it was when Anheuser-Busch first signed the master distribution agreement that said it had to buy Craft Brew Alliance by Aug. 23 for $24.50 per share or else make a $20 million payment under its international distribution agreement.

While there were other periods during the contract period when A-B could have bought Craft Brew for less, the megabrewer had essentially been on an acquisition hiatus following its purchase of SABMiller. It broke out of it just this month when it bought regional brewer Platform Beer, but that was likely a cheaper deal than what Craft Brew would have cost.

Based on the number of shares outstanding, it would have cost Anheuser-Busch about $500 million to acquire the craft brewer. Because it is trying to pay down its massive $100 billion debt load, the price tag may have been the biggest hurdle.

Yet it would have gained fast-growing Kona Brewing along with three other up-and-coming craft brewers -- Appalachian Mountain, Cisco, and Wynwood -- and two new brewpubs, which represent the hot growth market in craft beer these days.

Which is why investors may not want to discard Craft Brew Alliance like an open bottle of flat beer.

Riding a new wave

Kona Brewing's Big Wave Golden Ale is a big hit as it enjoys a national rollout with a substantial marketing campaign backstopping it. Kona saw depletions (sales to distributors and retailers) jump 8% in the second quarter from last year along with an 11% increase in shipments. Kona was responsible for 70% of Craft Brew Alliance's total depletions, with Big Wave accounting for most of the growth.

Yet it also saw shipments for its new acquisitions rise, though there are a number of puts and takes with the finances, since they previously paid fees to Craft Brew before the acquisition for distribution. Craft Brew Alliance also sold a brewpub to Cisco's founders and closed down one of its own, but the brewpub and taproom scene is where most of the industry's expansion is occurring.

Also, it is expanding into foreign markets. As part of its international distribution agreement with A-B, its Brazilian partner Ambev is helping to distribute Kona in Rio de Janeiro and beyond, and recently Craft Brew switched to local production of the beer instead of importing it into the country, which will save the brewer a lot of money. Coupled with the $20 million cash infusion it just received, it should have the wherewithal to finance international expansion with Anheuser-Busch's help.

The way forward

It might have been better for Craft Brew Alliance to continue its journey as part of the Anheuser-Busch family, but with A-B now allowing it to remain independent to a degree, it can chart its own path. It seems as if it has found the right groove, and the market's response to the news is unjustified.

Because Craft Brew Alliance was already trading well below the qualifying offer price, it indicated it didn't think A-B was going to buy it anyway. To drive the stock down even further only serves to make this latest development a buying opportunity.

Rich Duprey has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Anheuser-Busch InBev NV. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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