By Martinne Geller and Philip Blenkinsop
LONDON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - SABMiller <SAB.L> shareholders overwhelmingly backed the brewer's $100 billion-plus takeover by Anheuser-Busch InBev <ABI.BR> on Wednesday, clearing the last big hurdle for one of the largest corporate mergers in history.
The combined group will sell more than a quarter of all beers sold worldwide and be the fifth largest consumer goods company. For the maker of Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois it provides entry into Africa and large fast-growing Latin American markets such as Colombia and Peru.
It will also cut its revenue from mature markets North America and Europe to 37 from 47 percent.
AB InBev's 79 billion pound ($102.85 billion) bid passed in a meeting at a London Park Lane hotel lasting less than half an hour, overseen by Chairman Jan du Plessis, who fielded only two questions from shareholders.
It secured support representing 95.5 percent of SABMiller share value, having needed at least 75 percent to succeed.
In an earlier meeting in Brussels, AB InBev Chief Executive Carlos Brito said the new entity would continue to be called Anheuser-Busch InBev, eschewing any corporate reference to SABMiller, founded 120 years ago in South Africa. The brewer had changed its name after transformative deals in the past, such as InBev's 2008 takeover of Anheuser-Busch.
"They can call it what they wish. That's the way life works and that's fine," du Plessis told reporters after the meeting. "It's what it is."
He added that AB InBev were paying "a full price".
NOT A GIVEN
The approval of SAB shareholders was widely expected, but not a given. Criticism of the takeover offer grew after a steep fall in sterling following Britain's vote to leave the European Union made AB InBev's cash offer less appealing.
Activist shareholders pressured SAB to seek a higher offer, prompting AB InBev to sweeten its bid in July.
SAB backed the higher offer, and its two largest shareholders, cigarette maker Altria Group <MO.N> and the Santo Domingo family of Colombia, who together control about 40 percent of the shares, gave their support and did not vote on Wednesday. However, some prominent shareholders, including Aberdeen Asset Management, continued to oppose it.
"We are obviously disappointed with, but not surprised by, the result," Aberdeen said in a statement, adding it felt the final price still "significantly undervalued" SABMiller.
Despite hedge funds piling into the stock over the summer in the hope of a higher offer, Thomson Reuters data showed just six hedge funds with a collective investment of $211 million remained shareholders as the deal crossed the line.
The lion's share of that, $199 million, was held by New York-based Soroban Capital, with smaller positions held by HBK Investments, Platinum Capital Management, Elliott Management, Farallon Capital Management and Davidson Kempner Capital.
Cost-conscious AB InBev expects to extract at least $1.4 billion in annual cost savings after four years, it said, in addition to the $1.05 billion already announced by SABMiller. Given the company's history of easily beating such targets, broker Jefferies sees it achieving $3 billion in savings.
The new company will sell off joint venture stakes in the United States and China, to satisfy antitrust regulators, divest Peroni and Grolsch and kick off a sale process for SAB's central and eastern European brands, estimated to be worth up to 7 billion euros.
Still, competition in individual markets will not change radically as the two companies have little geographic overlap.
(Additional reporting by Simon Jessop in London; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)