AB InBev hikes U.S. beer sales, upbeat on Brazil

BRUSSELS Mon Apr 30, 2012 3:31am EDT

Anheuser Busch, Inc. World Headqaurters in St Louis. REUTERS/Peter Newcomb

Anheuser Busch, Inc. World Headqaurters in St Louis.

Credit: Reuters/Peter Newcomb

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI.BR), the world's largest beer maker, increased sales of beer in the United States for the first time in three years and said wage rises should ensure increased consumption in Brazil.

The maker of Budweiser, Stella Artois and Beck's said on Monday that it shipped 1.8 percent more beer and other drinks overall in the first quarter of 2012 and its core profit (EBITDA) rose 7.4 percent to $3.55 billion.

That was slightly below the average analyst expectation of $3.58 billion.

U.S. shipments grew 1.0 percent, aided by mild winter weather, an extra shipping day, restocking after inventories were cut at the end of 2011 and deliveries ahead of an earlier Easter.

It also launched Bud Light Platinum, a new 6 percent strength lager, at the end of January, a week before American football's Super Bowl and spent more on advertising linked to its sponsorship of the National Football League.

The company also referred to improving economic trends. U.S. unemployment declined to 8.2 percent in March from 8.5 percent in December and consumer sentiment improved over the quarter, although it slipped from a one-year high hit in February.

The company repeated that it expected softer U.S. shipments in the second quarter due to adjustments of its shipping patterns.

In Brazil, its next biggest market, the company said a 7.5 percent increase in the minimum wage should help accelerate consumption.

Among its rivals, Dutch brewer Heineken (HEIN.AS), the biggest seller in Europe, sold more beer than expected in the first three months of 2012 and persuaded consumers to switch to premium brands.

And SABMiller (SAB.L) reported a 3 percent rise in beer volumes in the January-March period as growth in emerging markets offset declines in Europe and North America.

Carlsberg (CARLb.CO) reports first-quarter earnings on May 9. SABMiller reports full-year earnings to the end of March on May 24, with its U.S. joint venture MillerCoors providing a trading update on May 8.

(Reporting By Philip Blenkinsop; editing by Rex Merrifield and Hans-Juergen Peters)

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