AB InBev to profit from Brazil, U.S. costs in Q4

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Anheuser-Busch InBev , the world’s largest brewer, is set to report a rise in fourth-quarter profit on Thursday, driven by a sharp increase in drinking in Brazil and cost savings in the United States.
The maker of Budweiser, Stella Artois and Beck’s forecast core profit growth in the fourth quarter would be “materially” higher than the 9 percent rise in the third, partly because it spent heavily on U.S. product launches at the end of 2009.
The average rise expected in a Reuters poll of 17 brokers was 15 percent.
Brazil, where the company has two-thirds of the beer market, and the United States, where it has about half, will dominate investor attention, along with AB InBev’s comments on input costs this year.
Guidance on total cost of sales will be of particular interest, given rocketing raw materials prices. The futures price for malting barley has risen 37 percent since the launch of the contract last May.
Cost of sales per hectoliter are expected to have been flat to slightly higher in 2010, but some rise would be expected for this year.
Beer sales in Brazil rose 14 percent in the first nine months of 2010, bringing in 30 percent of the company’s core earnings. That pace is expected to slow, but by how much?
Margins in the country are also expected to rise, due to price hikes as well as relative weakness at the end of 2009, making softer comparative figures.
In the United States, responsible for almost half of core earnings in Jan-Sept 2010, investors will closely watch cost savings from InBev’s 2008 takeover of Anheuser-Busch as well as the top line.
Drinking there is closely correlated to labor market dynamics. The U.S. jobless rate dropped to 9 percent in January, its lowest level since April 2009, opening up the prospect of growth ahead.
For now, the focus has been on limiting a steady decline in volumes and shifting drinkers onto higher-priced brands.
AB InBev is the last of the big four brewers to provide information on the final months of 2010.
World number two SABMiller , with a strong presence in fast-growing African and Latin American markets, said lager volumes rose 3 percent in the fourth quarter.
World number three Heineken, the market leader in western Europe, suffered volume decline, but increased profit by saving in Europe and from its large Mexican acquisition.
Fourth-largest brewer Carlsberg warned of modest growth and squeezed margins in Russia.
Bullish brokers say Thursday’s earnings and outlook could prompt an AB InBev recovery.