Schlitz Brewing Co. was not involved in an agreement between Stroh Brewery Co. and the Justice Department under which Stroh will sell one of Schlitz' two breweries once the two companies merge. An Associated Press story in Saturday's Business & Finance section incorrectly said Schlitz was involved in the agreement with the government.
The fight for control of Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co. fizzled out today as the company ended years of uncertainty about its future and weeks of litigation by agreeing to merge with Stroh Brewery Co.
Although the deal is the latest in a series of Stroh acquisitions that are designed to move the Michigan brewer into intense competition with the industry giants, Anheuser Busch Cos. Inc. and Miller Brewing Co., analysts say the deal is unlikely to alter dramatically the highly concentrated beer industry.
Experts maintain that the Stroh purchase was set up after the Justice Department's Antitrust Division effectively blocked an effort last fall by G. Heileman Brewing Co., an experienced concern with a good track record at taking over lagging regional brewers, to buy Stroh for the same $17-a-share price. Merging into Stroh is not the best fate that could have befallen Schlitz, the industry's fourth-leading producer.
One industry expert, who requested anonymity, said he doubts that the new company will be a particularly good national competitor. "This is the case of a regional company buying a national company," he said. "I'm not terribly sure that they have the marketing talent to turn it around."
"Going with Heileman would have been a better fate for Stroh's," said another industry observer, Marty Romm, beer analyst for Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Securities Corp. "I'm not sure Stroh's brings anything to the ball game. Heileman has proven to be a more formidable competitor. But they were a victim of merger mania last year."
Romm's comments reflect the fact that the government moved to oppose the Heileman bid in October when a merger wave was bringing pressure on the Justice Department from Capitol Hill and in antitrust circles to take at least symbolic action to demonstrate concern about corporate takeovers. In fact, the Heileman action was the first, and by far most definitive, action taken by the current administration to alter a corporate takeover.
But the government essentially has blessed the $335 million Stroh purchase. The Justice Department said earlier this week that it would not oppose the takeover, noting that it is continuing to study the deal, particularly in overlapping markets in the Southeast.
Yet the rationale mystifies some on Wall Street. "It's awful strange to me that nothing is terribly wrong with Stroh-Schlitz and say no to Heileman-Schlitz," said Arthur Kirsch of Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. "There's not a great deal of difference in absolute size."
The announcement of the agreement came today only after Schlitz stockholders had tendered more than two-thirds of their stock in response to a $16-a-share, three-week-old offer from Stroh. Schlitz agreed to drop complex litigation designed to block the offer, Stroh raised its offer by $1 a share and the deal was complete.
In 1981, Stroh produced 9.2 million barrels of beer, while Heileman brewed 13.2 million, and Schlitz, the fourth-leading beer maker sold another 14.3 million barrels. Stroh held about 5 percent of the market last year, while Schlitz had a market share of 7.9 percent in 1981.
Increasingly over the past 10 years, the beer industry has been dominated by Busch and Miller, firms with about half the national market. Generally, the trend is due to the high cost of marketing beer and the need to aggressively maintain complex local distribution networks.
As a result, the four biggest brewers controlled about 68 percent of the business last year, and the top eight companies garnered 91 percent of the market.
Schlitz, though relatively strong in the South, has had an eroding business as production has crumbled from an apparent high of 24 million barrels in 1976. Marketing experts say the beer is too tied to a fading blue-collar market and has undergone a series of taste changes that have left consumers dissatisfied.
But there is little doubt that Stroh has been a successful regional company and that its purchase last year of F&M Schaefer Corp. only added to its strength, particularly in the East. The two managements, though, generally win plaudits from experts, most of whom suggest the deal will help to cut costs, such as packaging and marketing, at both companies.