SABMiller says emerging market beer drinkers driving growth

Reuters

* EBITDA $3.27 billion, above estimates of $3.22 billion

* Adjusted EPS $1.20 vs consensus at $1.21

* Net producer revenue up 1 pct to $13.79 billion

By Martinne Geller

LONDON, Nov 21 (Reuters) - SABMiller, the world'ssecond-largest brewer, said emerging markets would continue todrive sales and earnings while European and North Americanconsumers drink less beer.

Other companies including Unilever and Diageo have reported a slowdown in emerging markets such asChina and Brazil but SABMiller said it was upbeat on the outlookfor Latin America, Africa and Asia.

The maker of Peroni, Grolsch and Miller Lite citedparticular strength in Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia whereurban populations are growing and trading up to branded beerfrom home-brewed alcohol.

"Amid widespread concerns around slowing economies,particularly in emerging markets, we believe that the underlyingfundamentals of our key developing markets remain in tact,"SABMiller Chief Executive Officer Alan Clark said on Thursday.

"This includes growth drivers such as growing population,increasing urbanization, progressively aspirational consumersand opportunities to gain market share from the illicit trade."

The brewer has leading positions in Africa, China and theAndean region of Latin America.

Strength in those places helped SABMiller report a 7 percentrise in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation andamortization, reaching $3.27 billion in the six months ended 30September. That was ahead of analysts' average estimate of $3.22billion, according to a company-supplied consensus.

Lager sales by volume rose 1 percent. Volume gains of 9percent in Africa, 4 percent in Asia Pacific and 1 percent inLatin America were tempered by declines of 4 percent in Europeand 3 percent in North America.

Africa has become a key battleground for alcoholic drinkmakers. Diageo has stepped up investments there, recently buyingbreweries in Tanzania and Ethiopia, and is on the hunt for more.

"Looking forward to the second half of the year, we expecttrading conditions to remain broadly unchanged, with volumegrowth continuing to be driven by emerging markets," Clark said.

EUROPE DISAPPOINTING

Slow economic growth in Europe and the United States hashurt household budgets, meaning consumers have either cut backon beer drinking or tried to buy it more cheaply.

In Europe EBITDA fell 8 percent and SABMiller highlightedfalling sales volumes in Poland and the Czech Republic.

"Europe is trading below our expectations," Chief FinancialOfficer Jamie Wilson said, noting that the region has been toughfor a number of quarters. "We see the economies there continuingto perform sluggishly, so that is not a surprise to us."

Shares of the company, which had fallen nearly 10 percent inthe past six months, were up 0.5 percent at 3250 pence at 1030GMT on Thursday.

"Without meaningful change in the macro outlook, we seelittle reason to become more positive on the stock," saidLiberum Capital in a research note.

Through a decade of heavy consolidation, four big brewers --Anheuser-Busch InBev, SABMiller, Heineken andCarlsberg -- already make half the world's beer.

As virgin ground shrinks, speculation has grown thatSABMiller itself could be acquired.

Asked whether consolidation in the beer sector was finished,Clark said: "We don't think that age or that era is over in thebrewing industry."

Earnings on a per-share basis were $1.20 in the first halfof the year, slightly below analysts' average estimate of $1.21.

Overall, net producer revenue, which excludes excise andsimilar taxes, was $13.79 billion, in line with estimates.

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