* Economic conditions continue to dampen demand
* Performance in line with group expectations
* Shares fall 1.4 percent
(Adds analyst comment, shares and further details)
By David Jones
LONDON, July 31 (Reuters) - Brewing giant SABMiller SAB.L SABJ.J on Friday missed consensus forecasts by posting flat first-quarter underlying beer volumes as the global slowdown hit demand for its beers, helping to push its shares lower.
The brewer of Miller Lite, Peroni and Grolsch said the effect varied between markets with European and South African volumes down while its Africa and Asia region was driven by a 17 percent rise in the world’s biggest beer market, China.
“The global economic slowdown has continued to dampen consumer demand, although the impact on volumes has varied between our markets,” Chief Executive Graham Mackay said in a trading statement for its April-June quarter.
The world’s No 2 brewer after Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI.BR) added that its financial performance was in line with its own expectations and was helped by price rises pushed through for its beers and cost cutting in some of its markets.
Forecasts ranged from growth of 3.9 percent to a dip of 0.2 percent for quarterly underlying beer volumes giving a consensus of 1.4 percent growth in a poll of six analysts by Reuters.
SABMiller shares dipped 1.4 percent to 13.77 pounds by 1100 GMT after trading unchanged just before the trading update.
“Despite a disappointing performance in Europe where volumes fell by 7 percent, SABMiller’s financial performance in Q1 was in line with management expectations,” said analyst Matthew Webb at brokers Cazenove.
The group, which also brews Castle, Snow, and Pilsner Urquell beers, said volumes were flat in Latin America and rose by 11 percent in its Africa and Asia region, but they fell 7 percent in Europe and were 2 percent lower in South Africa.
Europe suffered as household debts, tighter credit control and rising umemployment hit consumer spending with beer volumes down in Poland, the Czech Republic, Russia and Romania.
Analysts pointed out that although China accounts for around 14 percent of the group’s global beer volume it only makes up around 2 percent of group profits.
In the United States, where it formed the MillerCoors (TAP.N) joint venture in July 2008, sales to retailers fell 0.8 percent in the quarter with Miller Lite volumes dipping.
The brewer, which earns nearly 90 percent of its profits from emerging markets like South Africa, Colombia, Poland and China, was giving a routine first-quarter trading update ahead of its annual shareholders meeting. (Reporting by David Jones; Editing by Hans Peters)