August 3, 2017 / 8:47 AM / 3 years ago

Japan's Asahi boosts annual outlook after European beer brand buy

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s Asahi Group Holdings Ltd (2502.T) added 22 percent to its annual profit forecast on Thursday, as eastern European brands bought in March from Anheuser-Busch InBev NV (ABI.BR) boosted a beer business struggling with falling demand at home.

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past the logo of Asahi Group Holdings at the company's headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, May 17, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

The maker of Japan’s best-selling beer, Asahi Super Dry, started booking sales from brands such as Poland’s Tyskie and Pilsner Urquell from the Czech Republic in the second quarter.

Asahi earns the bulk of its income at home but changing consumer tastes has prompted it to seek growth overseas.

Japanese beer consumption is at an all-time low as the country’s heavy-drinking corporate culture goes out of fashion while young people shift to other drinks such as “chuhai” - fizzy cocktails sold in cans.

Asahi has spent around 1.2 trillion yen (8.19 billion pounds) buying beer brands across Europe from AB Inbev, the world’s biggest brewer, which sold off assets to appease regulators during its $100 billion acquisition of peer SABMiller.

The latest addition has allowed Asahi to raise its operating profit outlook for the year through December to 167.3 billion, from 146 billion yen forecast at the beginning of the year.

It also said it now expects annual sales to top 2 trillion yen for the first time - up 11.5 percent from its previous forecast - and that it had raised its annual dividend outlook to 69 yen per share from 60 yen.

For the six months through June, operating profit grew 34 percent to 70.7 billion yen. While profit in its domestic soft drink division was buoyant, up 43 percent, that in its domestic alcoholic drink business grew just 2.2 percent.

MINORITY REVIEW

Asahi’s intensified focus on Europe prompted a review of the brewer’s minority interests. In June, it said it would sell its 20 percent stake in Chinese brewer Tingyi-Asahi Beverages Holding Co Ltd for $612 million.

Domestic peer Sapporo Holdings Ltd (2501.T) is also seeking growth overseas, saying on Thursday it would buy Californian brewer Anchor Brewing Co for $85 million as it looks to bolster its U.S. operations.

Sapporo also said first-half operating profit fell 1 percent to 3 billion yen due primarily to rising costs.

At Kirin Holdings Ltd (2503.T), Japan’s biggest brewer by market value, one overseas acquisition proved to be a burden. The firm sold its money-losing subsidiary in recession-hit Brazil to Heineken NV (HEIN.AS), allowing it to raise its annual operating profit forecast by 4 percent to 152 billion yen.

Kirin’s first-half profit rose 35.7 percent to 79.8 billion yen, boosted partly by its soft drinks and pharmaceutical units.

Reporting by Sam Nussey; Additional reporting by Taiga Uranaka; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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