By Philip Blenkinsop
BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer, expanded its profit by slightly more than expected in the fourth quarter as higher prices more than compensated for an overall decline in beer sales.
The maker of Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois said on Thursday that its drinks volumes fell globally by 0.6% in the final quarter of 2022, compared with a rise expected by the market.
AB InBev suffered a sharp decline in sales and earnings in China due to a strict zero COVID policy that was suddenly dropped in December.
The company’s Asian subsidiary, which also released results on Thursday, said it believed the restaurants and night life venues it sells to in China had almost fully re-opened by the end of February.
It said it was optimistic for a business recovery in 2023 after a transitional first quarter.
In the United States, AB InBev’s largest market, profit and revenue increased, largely due to price increases, although those same increases, along with harsh winter weather in December, cut into beer sales in volume terms.
Brewers have raised beer prices in response to higher energy and raw materials costs, and both Heineken and Carlsberg have warned of weaker beer consumption in Europe because of the increases.
AB InBev shares were down 3.1% in early trading, albeit in a weaker overall market.
Bernstein Research analyst Trevor Stirling described the results as a “mixed bag” and said that some investors may have hoped for less conservative outlook, although an increased dividend was a positive sign.
The company’s overall core profit – earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) – rose 7.6% on a like-for-like basis in the fourth quarter to $4.95 billion, above the 7.1% gain expected by analysts in a company-compiled poll.
For the whole year, core profit growth was 7.2%.
The Belgium-based company forecast core profit would grow in 2023 in line with its medium-term outlook range of 4% to 8%, with revenue expanding at a higher rate than profit.
AB InBev also increased its full-year dividend to a proposed 0.75 euros from 0.50 euros in each of the past two years.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Christopher Cushing and Jan Harvey)