It was announced Thursday that a federal securities class action lawsuit has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of investors who purchased American Depository Receipts (ADRs) of Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev, NYSE: BUD) from March 1, 2018 through October 24, 2018.
According to the complaint filed by Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz LLP, plaintiff AB InBev made “false and/or misleading statements and/or failed to disclose” a number of pertinent business records that prospective investors would use to make rational decisions regarding potential transactions with the brewing juggernaut. The law firm is urging individuals who purchased ADRs during the “Class Period” to contact them immediately, as affected investors may not become plaintiffs after August 20, 2019.
The allegations listed in the lawsuit summary are specific and numerous, and they amount to an overall claim that AB InBev executives outright defrauded investors, leading them to believe that the ability of the company to be financially reciprocal was strong. In reality, the macro brewer’s officers were preparing to break the news that dividends were about to take a major hit.
On October 25, 2018, AB InBev cut its dividend by 50 percent, which was followed by a more than nine percent dive ($7.71 per share) in the company’s ADR price, by closing bell the same day.
Leading up to the dividend devaluation, certifications issued to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by AB InBev CEO Carlos Brito and CFO/CTO Felipe Dutra were materially false and misleading, the suit alleges. For this reason, according to the announcement, Biggest Beer lacked a reasonable basis for prior positive statements about the company’s dividend growth, its cost synergies, its liquidity and current efforts to deleverage Anheuser-Busch’s balance sheet.
Such communication is ostensibly problematic to many who have followed the beer industry over the past decade, during which legacy macro brewers have lost gobs of market share to craft beer. In fact, the suit also alleges that Anheuser-Busch was aware that it had been experiencing less than expected growth and profits in certain key markets, that it was not going to be able to maintain its then current dividend and still meet its deleveraging targets and that it was at risk of having its credit ratings downgraded.
Recent disclosures from the industry leader make this reality ever apparent. In its 4th quarter 2018 results, AB InBev reported that Budweiser lost 35 basis points of market share, while best seller Bud Light lost 85 basis points of share. On the converse, the Brewers Association reported that in 2018 craft brewers had taken well over twenty percent of the overall beer market.
It is likely that AB InBev will take this new action seriously, as the law firm representing the plaintiffs has extensive experience in the prosecution of securities class actions and derivative litigation in state and federal trial and appellate courts across the country. What may catch its officers’ attention over anything else is that (just in May) Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz successfully petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States to allow its class action filing against Apple to move forward.
Investors who feel they are affected can fill out a form here to inquire about being included in the class action suit.