Anheuser-Busch Cos. said it will sell its money-losing St. Louis Cardinals baseball team and Eagle Snacks unit in an unexpected move to return its focus to the world's leading beer business and boost its lagging share price.
The St. Louis-based company, in other moves to save money, said it will close its brewery in Tampa, Fla., and reduce beer shipments to wholesalers by 5% in the fourth quarter. In July, the company said it would spin off its Campbell Taggart, the nation's second-largest bakery, to shareholders.
The latest moves are expected to bring in at least $200 million in cash, which the maker of Budweiser and Bud Light beer said it will use to strengthen its brewing and entertainment operations, including Busch Gardens and Sea World theme parks.
"We think it should have been done a long time ago," said Jerry Wise, executive vice president of Oklahoma shareholder Tom Johnson Investment Management Inc., which holds 354,000 shares.
The company said it expects to take a "substantial" write-off on the sales in the fourth quarter.
The company said the moves are aimed at raising the price of the stock. Anheuser-Busch's shares have returned an average of 6.3% a year in the past three years, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 15% a year.
The bigger of the two new planned divestitures is the Eagle snacks business, which is a distant No. 2 in U.S. salty snack market behind PepsiCo Inc.'s Frito-Lay.
Anheuser's steps come as the company is struggling to squeeze growth out of a stagnant domestic beer market.
The company, with 44% of the market, holds a commanding lead over Miller Brewing Co., owned by Philip Morris Cos., and Adolph Coors Co. But the three big brewers have seen their volume level off or fall in the past 10 years as beer consumption slipped. In the first nine months of this year, overall beer volume fell 0.3%.
The news hasn't been all bad: Consumers are paying more for what they do drink, and Anheuser-Busch and the others have been trying to cash on the success of micro-brewed and import beers.
The company has a 25% stake in Redhook Ale Brewery Inc., which went public in August, and it is testing its own specialty brew line, American Originals.