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For Asia Beer Deal, Heineken Needs to Drink Rivals 'Under the Table'

"[The] strategic/regional ambitions of Thai Beverage and perhaps more so Kirin, as well as the apparent historic reluctance of F&N to exit APB, suggest a deal may prove difficult to complete," wrote Berenberg Bank analyst Phillip Morrisey in a note to clients reacting to Heineken's initial July 20 offer.

Heineken's offer is "a very full price in our view and may still need to go higher," added Jefferies analyst Dirk van Vlaanderen, at the time of the initial bid.

A full blown bidding war would underscore the thirst for scarce growth assets in emerging markets among beer giants. Still, a successful bid could be positive for Heineken as it takes on ABInBev and SABMiller.

"Strategically we like the deal given the dynamic growth credentials of the Asia Pacific region and that Heineken knows the business well after 80+ years of collaboration," added Van Vlaanderen in a July 20 note.

"While this is certainly at the expensive end of recent brewing acquisitions, APB is a high-growth company and is of significant strategic importance for Heineken," wrote Davy Research analysts in late July.

Other recent deals reflect the importance of emerging markets to global brewers. In June, Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) paid $20.1 billion for its remaining stake in Grupo Modelo, the maker of Corona beer, in a move that further pushes the beer giant into fast growing Central American markets.

Earlier in 2012, Anheuser-Busch InBev bought Cerveceria Nacional Dominicana, the maker of Presidente beer and the largest brewer in the Dominican Republic for $1.24 billion, boosting its beer brands in the region.

After both acquisitions, Anheuser-Busch InBev will own Corona, Pacifico, Brahma, Presidente, Quilmes, and Modelo branded beers in Latin America, putting it in stiff regional competition with Heineken, which owns Dos Equis, Tecate and Sol beers.

Meanwhile, to combat declining sales in key U.S. and Canadian beer markets Molson Coors (TAP) recently acquired Czech Republic-based StarBev, the brewer of Staropramen beer, in a $3.5 billion deal that will push the company into heavy-drinking eastern European emerging economies.

In late 2011, SABMiller (SAB), the world's second-biggest brewer by volume, bought Australia's Fosters Group for about $10.5 billion.

For more on investing in beer and alcohol, see the top 5 beverage stocks. See 5 deal ready stocks loved by hedge funds for more on potential M&A targets.

For a breakdown by Euromonitor of beer growth markets, see the fastest-growing drunk nations.

-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York

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