UPDATE 2-AB InBev cuts Brazil outlook after weak start to year

Tue Apr 30, 2013 4:51am EDT

* Q1 core profit $3.43 bln vs Reuters poll $3.58 bln

* Volumes down 4.1 pct, in Brazil by 8.2 pct

* Now sees flat to weaker full-year Brazil volumes

* Shares down 3 pct, among weakest of European blue chips (Adds financial director, analyst comments, shares)

By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS, April 30 (Reuters) - Anheuser-Busch InBev , the world's largest brewer, cut its sales forecast for Brazil, its second-biggest market, in part because rising food prices are reducing the amount of money that consumers there have to spend on beer.

Shares in the maker of Budweiser, Stella and Beck's fell around 3 percent on Tuesday after it missed first-quarter profit forecasts and said Brazilian sales volumes were likely to be flat or down by a low-single-digit percentage this year. It had previously forecast low-to-mid single digit growth in Brazil.

The world's top brewers are relying on emerging markets for growth amid a prolonged squeeze on consumer incomes in austerity-hit Europe and limited U.S. expansion. But bad weather and tax-led price hikes have posed challenges recently.

Heineken, the world's third-largest brewer, last week reported lower beer sales in all regions except Asia and cut its expectations for growth this year.

AB InBev said it sold 4.1 percent less beer and other drinks in the first three months compared with last year on a like-for-like basis. It also reported declines in every region except Asia, where China was exceptionally strong.

Core profit (EBITDA) rose 0.9 percent to $3.43 billion, but was below even the lowest forecast in a Reuters poll of 12 brokers, for which the average expectation was $3.58 billion.

AB InBev, which has a two-thirds share of the Brazilian beer market, said consumers there drank 8.2 percent less beer than a year ago due to the earlier timing of the Carnival, poor weather and high food inflation. It also lost market share.

"Brazil has been a great banker for years. It wobbled a bit last year. Now, it's taken a further leg down," said Andrew Holland, beverage analyst at Societe Generale.

AB InBev shares were down 2.7 percent to 71.13 euros at 0845 GMT, among the weakest in the FTSEurofirst 300 index of leading European stocks.

They have slipped from an all-time high of 79.60 euros earlier this month. That peak was inspired by the expected conclusion of AB InBev's deal to buy the whole of Grupo Modelo , the top brewer in Mexico, the world's fourth largest beer market in terms of profit generated.

FOOD INFLATION

AB InBev Chief Financial Officer Felipe Dutra said the early Carnival in Brazil, which shortened the summer drinking season, and wet weather had been known. However, March proved particularly weak, with industry volumes down by a percentage in the high teens.

"We had continued weak weather into March ... but we also saw a peak in food inflation which impacts real disposable income," Dutra said, adding that economists expected an easing of food inflation through the year.

Brazilian inflation accelerated in March to 6.59 percent, breaching the official target ceiling of 6.5 percent for the first time since November 2011.

For beer makers in Brazil, April was better albeit still declining by a mid-single-digit percentage, Dutra said.

In the United States, where AB InBev has about half of the market, tax and petrol price rises and a harsher winter than in 2012 resulted in a 4.1 percent decline in sales to retailers and a squeeze of margins.

AB InBev, like rivals, has hiked prices and cut costs in mature markets, while buying into the higher growth of emerging countries, such as Mexico, where its purchase of the rest of Corona maker Modelo is due to close in June. (Editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek and Mark Potter)

Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.