Scottish & Newcastle (S&N) could be forced into accepting a proposed takeover by Carlsberg and Heineken, according to insiders.
The British brewer reacted furiously to the proposed deal, announced on Wednesday, with a formal offer expected this week, saying it was "unsolicited and unwelcome". It urged its shareholders to "take no action at this time".
But City analysts said S&N would come under increasing shareholder pressure to consider the deal for between £7.20 and £7.50 per share, which values the company at between £6.8bn and £7.10bn, excluding debt.
"Shareholders realise that the prospects in S&N's key markets such as the UK and France are poor," said one analyst. "It would be foolish for S&N shareholders not to see the sense in this deal."
Some suggested the brewer was not as averse to a takeover as it seemed and that its initial stance was a tactic to push the price up to nearer the £8/share mark.
S&N is one of the few remaining brewers with an open share register; it has no controlling shareholder and is a mid-sized business in a consolidating sector that is increasingly concerned with scale, making it an attractive target.
In January, Anheuser-Busch was said to be in talks with Inbev over a possible joint bid. This was followed by talk of a joint SABMiller and Diageo offer in April - but nothing came of either.
The latest proposal was compelling because of the way Carlsberg and Heineken planned to carve up S&N, said analysts. "Under the terms of the joint venture, there will be no competition issues, which is where many previous proposals have fallen down," said Sam Hart, analyst at Charles Stanley.
"Carlsberg would get S&N's share of its Russian JV business, BBH, as well as the businesses in France and Greece. Heineken would take the more mature European markets, including the UK, Finland and Portugal, which would be integrated with its existing operations."
In the UK, the S&N portfolio, which includes mainstream brands such as Foster's and Strongbow, as well as Bulmers, would merge well with Heineken's business, which has been repositioned towards the premium end of the market.