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Beer Production, Consuption Goes Flat In 2010

Wed, 05/05/2010 - 5:02am
Greg Keller, AP Business Writer

PARIS (AP) — Anheuser-Busch InBev SA, the world's largest brewer and maker of Budweiser, said Wednesday its first quarter profit fell 34 percent to $475 million as global beer sales remained stagnant and were not forecast to rebound in 2010.

AB InBev made a $716 million profit a year earlier. It sold 0.8 percent more beer and soft drinks in the first quarter and said an expected improvement in profitability would be delayed until the second half due to lower than expected sales and higher marketing expenses.

In a statement, AB InBev also warned its second quarter earnings would be hit by higher one-off financing costs stemming from a refinancing and bond issue in the first quarter.

"We now expect second quarter 2010 volume growth more in line with first quarter levels," the company said, while earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization, or EBITDA, growth will be lower, "largely due to the timing of sales and marketing investments." In March, the brewer had forecast gradually improving revenue and EBITDA growth over the remaining three quarters of the year.

In the United States, the company's biggest market, beer volume sales were down 6.8 percent — even though revenues grew 1.6 percent. Volumes were also down by 14.4 percent in Russia and 1.2 percent in western Europe, but rose 5.1 percent in China.

Revenues in the first quarter were $8.33 billion, up 1.9 percent from $8.2 billion in 2009's first quarter.

AB InBev had warned in March that first quarter volume sales would suffer from the cold weather in the U.S. and alcohol tax hikes in Russia.

The brewer depends on emerging economies for about half of its revenue and most of its volume sales. It is the market leader in the U.S. and in Brazil.

Brazil was the brewer's best-performing market in the first quarter, with sales of Antarctica, Brahma and other popular local brews growing 15.9 percent by volume.

It is focusing this year on growing its business after a tough year of cost-cutting and deleveraging in 2009. Debt paydown is still a top priority, it says, and is being funded by generating "significant free cash flow."

AB InBev has spent the last year struggling with the aftermath of a $52 billion takeover in July 2008, just weeks before the financial crisis sent debt costs soaring.

The company said it has now managed to extend some $20 billion in outstanding debt and this month obtained $17.2 billion in long-term bank financing to fully refinance the takeover debt.

The refinancing will weigh on second quarter earnings however, the company said. It will take a $157 million charge in addition to an estimated $55 million mark-to-market adjustment to account for non-recurring finance costs tied to the refinancing, the company said.

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