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AB InBev cautious over challenging times in U.S.

Anheuser-Busch InBev , the world's largest brewer, warned of challenging times in its biggest market of the United States after beer prices rises there and in Brazil helped it meet second-quarter profit forecasts.

The brewer of Budweiser and Stella Artois said it was monitoring the U.S. economy closely, but was more positive for its second biggest market Brazil where it expects beer volumes to recover in the second half after a dip in the second quarter.

Chief Financial Officer Felipe Dutra said on Thursday that he remained cautious on the United States, saying he was watching the economy closely after quarterly beer volumes there dipped 3.4 percent due to poor weather and higher fuel prices.

Other food and drink companies have pushed through price increases to offset big hikes in commodity costs, but analysts doubt if these big rises can continue while many world economies remain sluggish, particularly the U.S. and Europe.

AB InBev shares slipped 0.5 percent to 34.97 euros by 3:45 a.m. EDT with analysts concerned about prospects for recovery in the U.S. and Brazil as around three-quarter of the group's profits comes from the American region.

"The numbers did confirm that in the two key markets which are crucial to AB InBev, the USA and Brazil, there's no momentum in terms of volumes. Expectations were relatively low and they delivered on the bottom line, but again it's confirmation that the momentum is not there in the two crucial markets," said analyst Karel Zoete at Rabobank.

Second-quarter core profits or EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) increased by 6 percent to $3.75 billion, in line with forecast from a Reuters poll as the group raised prices to offset flat beer volumes.

In Brazil, beer volumes fell 2.6 percent due to low growth of disposable income, and because of tough comparisons with last year which was boosted by the football World Cup.

"We are confident the slowdown is temporary," AB InBev's Dutra told reporters. "We see a significant increase in real terms for minimum wages...this has an impact on disposable income and therefore consumption as we approach the year end."

Worries over rising unemployment and stagnant wages pushed U.S. consumer sentiment to a two-year low in July, while in Brazil consumer sentiment also reached a two-year low in June due to concerns over inflation.

Miller Coors, the second-largest brewer in the United States, owned by SABMiller Plc and Molson Coors Brewing Co , also said earlier this month that it managed to increase profit in the second quarter by raising beer prices and cutting costs in the face of a tough market.

AB InBev stuck to its forecast that costs savings from its takeover of Anheuser-Busch in 2008 would total $2.25 billion by the end of 2011.

12 Aug. 2011

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