* Q2 core profit $3.59 bln vs Reuters poll $3.72 bln
* Beer volumes down 0.5 pct
* Marketing, distribution costs rise
* Sees U.S. shipments up, distribution costs down in H2
* Shares down 3.5 pct, among weakest in Europe
By Philip Blenkinsop
BRUSSELS, July 31 (Reuters) - Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer, fell short of second-quarter earnings expectations, selling less beer and spending more on distribution and marketing new U.S. brands.
The maker of Budweiser, Stella Artois and Beck’s forecast an improved second half after posting a second-quarter 2.5 percent like-for-like rise in core profit (EBITDA) to $3.59 billion, below the average $3.74 billion in a Reuters poll.
Overall group beer volumes fell by 0.5 percent, in contrast to rival SABMiller which benefited from its presence in Poland, one of the hosts of the Euro 2012 soccer tournament, to sell 5 percent more in the quarter.
AB InBev’s shipments fell to wholesalers in the United States, where its market share is almost 50 percent.
Marketing costs also increased on new U.S. brands - including a 6 percent Bud Light Platinum beer and margarita-flavoured Lime-A-Rita - and the company spent more to transport beer across both the United States and Brazil.
AB InBev Chief Financial Officer Felipe Dutra acknowledged that the second quarter had been ‘challenging’.
“However, we are confident about the momentum we have in our top three markets -- U.S., Brazil and China -- and look forward to a stronger second half compared to the first half,” he said.
AB InBev shares were down 3.6 percent at 0906 GMT and were among the weakest in the FTSEurofirst 300 index of leading European stocks.
“They’ve had higher distribution expenses, increased cost of goods sold and some market share losses... They’ve shown they are human. It’s a weak quarter, although it’s not a disaster,” said ING beverage analyst Gerard Rijk.
AB InBev shares are still up 35 percent in the year to date, double the rise of the STOXX European food and beverage index .
The company said U.S. shipments to wholesalers would grow in the third and fourth quarters and that distribution costs overall should decline in the second half.
“It’s clearly below expectations, but most of these things are related to this quarter and will reverse or fade in the second half,” said Bernstein analyst Trevor Stirling.
The Americas represent 75 percent of AB InBev’s revenue and more than 85 percent of earnings. That will increase after its $20.1 billion buyout of Mexico’s Grupo Modelo agreed last month.
AB InBev has almost 50 percent of the beer market in the United States, the world’s second biggest after China, and nearly 70 percent in Brazil.
The company’s strategy has been based on selling more beer in emerging markets, notably Brazil, and persuading U.S. drinkers in particular to pay more, either through increasing prices or shifting to premium brands.
It also hiked prices last year in Brazil to keep ahead of inflation and to tap a 7 percent real increase in the minimum wage this year.
The Belgian-based brewer is the second global player to report on the April-June period after SAB Miller.
Carlsberg reports second-quarter results on Aug. 15 and Heineken on Aug. 22.