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Ladbrokes is boosted by an £80m tax repayment

HEINEKEN’S beer sales fell more than expected in the first quarter as western consumers drank less, underlining the group’s increasing reliance for growth on sales in emerging markets in Africa and Asia.

Its shares fell more than 2.5 per cent to their lowest in eight weeks.

The Dutch-based company, whose chief brands are Heineken and Amstel, said yesterday market conditions remained challenging in Europe and the United States, while a tripling of excise duty in Russia this year had significantly hit sales.

Chief financial officer Rene Hooft Graafland said: “March was better. The trends are going better, but we think it is too early to say we are out of the woods.”

Heineken’s trading update reflects a split between consumers in the developed world struggling to recover from deep recessions, while those in many emerging markets such as in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean spend more. However, it also provided a reminder of developing world risks, with the brewer blaming the economic and security situation in key market Nigeria for a single-digit percentage fall in volumes.

Heineken, which also brews Cruzcampo, Zywiec, Birra Moretti, Murphy’s and Star, sold eight per cent less beer in the first three months of the year, or 5.3 per cent on a like-for-like basis. And revenue fell 3.5 per cent to €2.94bn (£2.5bn).

Heineken’s shares recovered slightly to end the day one per cent lower at €36.89.