Stella brewer predicts 2012 growth after strong quarter

ANHEUSER-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer, beat expectations for profit growth in the fourth quarter, it said yesterday, and forecast that consumers in its two main markets – the US and Brazil – would be drinking more in 2012.

The brewer of Budweiser, Stella Artois and Beck’s, reported a 12.2 per cent like-for-like rise in core profit (Ebitda) in the final three months of 2011 to $4.2bn (£3.5bn), clearly above the $4.14bn average expectation in a poll.

The brewer said it was also proposing a 50 per cent increase in its dividend to €1.20, below the €1.34 average forecast.

AB InBev has held down dividend payouts in the years since InBev’s $52bn (£33bn) takeover of Anheuser-Busch in 2008 as it concentrated on clearing debt.

The company said volumes in the US had been encouraging in the first two months, helped by mild weather, early signs of a recovery in consumer confidence and better than expected results from its new lager, Bud Light Platinum.

It said it expected softer shipments in the second quarter, but more favourable shipments in the other three quarters.

In Brazil, the 7.5 per cent minimum wage increase is expected to help boost drinking.

AB InBev said it expected its volumes to grow in 2012, after a year when its volumes were flat due to price hikes. The brewer warned cost of sales per hectolitre would increase by a mid single-digit percentage, due to the sharp rise in the price of barley, but said nonetheless revenue per hectolitre should grow ahead of inflation. AB InBev is the last of the big four brewers to report figures through to the end of 2011.