Price hikes spell AB InBev Q3 hit, Carlsberg miss

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Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI.BR) and Carlsberg (CARLb.CO) showed sharply contrasting fortunes in the third quarter, the former persuading U.S. and Brazilian beer drinkers to swallow higher prices while the latter suffers a tax-rise hangover in Russia.

AB InBev, the world’s biggest brewer and maker of Budweiser, Stella Artois and Beck’s persuaded increasingly affluent Brazilians to drink higher priced beer and U.S. drinkers to stick with or shift to premium brands despite an economic slowdown.

By contrast, Carlsberg, the world No. 4 and producer of Baltika and Tuborg, suffered a double whammy in Russia of lower volumes and higher costs, but maintained its full-year profit outlook, against some expectations of a downgrade, sending its battered shares sharply higher.

Belgium-based AB InBev said on Wednesday third-quarter core profit (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) rose 5.5 percent on a like-for-like basis to $3.97 billion, against a market expectation of $3.88 billion.

Total volumes of beer and other drinks fell by 0.2 percent on a like-for-like basis, but revenue grew by 3.6 percent.

The brewer, which makes around 80 percent of its profit from North and South America, said it expects volumes to gain momentum in the fourth quarter, particularly because of relatively weak year-earlier levels in Brazil, with increases in global commodity costs mitigated by forward hedging.

It raised U.S. beer prices by an average 3 percent at the start of October and Chief Financial Officer Felipe Dutra said prices appeared to have little impact on volumes, while Brazilian demand continues to grow even as prices rise.

Dutra added that Brazilian volumes are expected to increase significantly next year when the minimum wage is set go up by 14 percent in a market where the group has a near-70 percent share.

At the Copenhagen-based brewer, third-quarter operating profit fell by 21 percent, steeper than expected, hurt by tax-driven price hikes that shrank the Russian beer market by 7 percent and more costly barley imports enforced by last year’s poor harvest there.

The year-on-year comparison was made even worse because Russia — Carlsberg’s biggest market accounting for 40 percent of group profits — was hit by a heat wave in summer 2010, the cause of the poor harvest but a firm boost for beer consumption.

Russia is set to raise duty on beer again in 2012. Carlsberg said it was increasing prices this month and expected wholesalers and distributors to build stocks in the final quarter, helping it to maintain its 2011 outlook.

Carlsberg CEO Jorgen Buhl Rasmussen told a conference call that price competition was intensifying in Russia, but that he expected the market to grow modestly next year.

Carlsberg shares were up 3.2 percent at 1330 GMT, having hit a two-month high, AB InBev’s struck a five-month high and were 1.6 percent higher. The STOXX 600 European food and beverage index .SX3P was 0.4 percent weaker.

“It’s largely down to expectations,” said Andrew Holland, analyst at Societe Generale. “Carlsberg held their guidance and said what they need to do in Q4 to hit that target.”

Carlsberg shares are still down 33 percent this year, while AB InBev’s are only 4 percent weaker.

The world’s top four brewers — including also SABMiller (SAB.L) and Heineken (HEIN.AS) — have all sought growth in emerging markets, while trying to persuade drinkers in stagnant or declining U.S. and European markets, to pay more.

In October, Heineken reported a surprise increase in volumes and revenues, helped by a rebound in Russia and stronger African markets.

The same month, SABMiller, which reports full first-half results on November 17, said beer volumes were up 3 percent in the six months to the end of September, driven by Latin America, but below expectations due to poor performances in Europe and China.