NEW YORK – Judging by just-released sales figures, Americans drank a record number of Budweiser brewskies to numb their worries during the recession and in the aftermath of Sept. 11.
Anheuser-Busch Inc., the U.S. beer unit of Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc., reported Tuesday that its 2001 volume of beer sales broke records. Not only that, but its parent — the largest brewer in the world — projected growth for 2002 at 10 percent earnings per share.
The news comes amid a time of heavy U.S. beer guzzling. Sales of alcoholic beverages typically climb during economic downturns because people drink to escape their troubles. In the last few months, liquor sales have spiked even more in reaction to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Domestic beer shipments to wholesalers rose to 99.5 million barrels in 2001, up 1.2 million barrels or 1.2 percent over 2000, according to a statement released by Anheuser-Busch Chief Executive Patrick Stokes.
Wholesaler sales-to-retailers jumped 5 percent in the fourth quarter, boosted by unseasonably warm weather, an extra selling day in the quarter and strong sales over the holiday period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, the company said. Sales-to-retailers were up 1.8 percent for the year.
Morgan Stanley beverage analyst Bill Pecoriello said the fourth-quarter figures were a healthy sign for the brewing giant.
"This sales-to-retailers number, even if you adjust for the extra selling day, was well above anybody's expectations and bodes well for their business as they enter '02," he said.
Shares of Anheuser-Busch showed small climbs and slips after the company released its update, and were last up 10 cents at $46.10. The shares have been on a relatively steady climb since mid-October and are near a 52-week high of $46.95.
For the fourth quarter, beer shipments by Anheuser-Busch to its wholesalers grew 0.3 percent as the company cut wholesaler inventories to levels below last year, in an effort to enhance product freshness and "system economics," the company said.
Stokes said that Bud Light, the top-selling beer in the United States, continued its strong sales performance, followed by Budweiser, which is the top-selling brand in the world.
St. Louis-based parent Anheuser-Busch Cos. said it expects earnings per share to grow 10 percent for 2002, and that it still expects earnings per share to grow 12 percent for 2001.
Pecoriello called the 2002 growth target "very conservative."
On average, analysts currently expect Anheuser-Busch's earnings per share to grow 11.8 percent to $1.89 in 2001, according to tracking firm Thomson Financial/First Call. For 2002, the average earnings estimate is $2.09 per share. That equates to a 10.6 percent climb from the current 2001 view.
Anheuser-Busch Cos. expects to announce fourth-quarter and full-year results in early February. Analysts currently expect the company to earn 25 cents to 26 cents for the quarter, with the consensus at 26 cents, according to First Call.
Fox News’ Catherine Donaldson-Evans and Reuters contributed to this report.