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Australian watchdog flags concerns about Asahi-Carlton & United deal

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has raised concerns about Asahi Group Holdings Ltd.'s proposed takeover of Anheuser-Busch InBev SA's Carlton & United Breweries.

In July, AB InBev agreed to sell its Australian subsidiary to Tokyo-based Asahi for an enterprise value of about A$16 billion. The move would allow the Japanese brewer to commercialize AB InBev's portfolio of brands, including Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois, in Australia.

However, the watchdog said the potential deal would likely limit competition in the market for cider and beer. The regulator said it interviewed licensed venues, alcohol retailers, competitors and industry groups in its preliminary review.

"The proposed acquisition would combine the two largest suppliers of cider in a highly concentrated market ... Asahi argued to us that cider and beer are part of the same market, but our preliminary view is that cider is a separate market and drinkers do not readily switch between beer and cider," Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Chairman Rod Sims said.

"Our preliminary view is that having Asahi in the market as a competitor to the big two brewers may help to keep a lid on beer prices," Sims added. "This competitive presence, and the threat of Asahi growing more in the future, would be lost if this deal goes ahead."

The competition watchdog is scheduled to release its final decision March 19, 2020.

Asahi and Carlton & United did not immediately respond to S&P Global's requests for comment.