LOS ANGELES – Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. (BUD) Wednesday trimmed its full-year earnings estimate as beer sales slowed this summer due to cooler weather and the impact of higher gas prices on consumer spending.
The St. Louis, Mo.-based maker of Budweiser beer and the top U.S. brewer expects to post a per-share profit of $2.75 to $2.76, excluding a one-time hedge gain.
In July, Anheuser-Busch forecast earnings of $2.77 per share.
Including a one-time hedge gain, the brewer expects to earn between $2.77 per share and $2.78 per share.
I offset disappointing beer sales.
"Management is being exceptionally tested to use its various earnings levers to provide unchanged or better than expected earnings performance when a given driver such as domestic volumes disappoints," Swartzberg wrote.
Anheuser-Busch has faced stiff competition in recent years from both the popular microbrew beer market, as well as increased consumer interest in wine and spirits.
As a result, price increases are expected to be a key ingredient of the company's profit growth going forward and the company said Wednesday it will moderately boost prices in the fourth quarter of this year and the first quarter of 2005.
"The beer pricing environment remains very favorable," Anheuser-Busch Chief Financial Officer Randy Baker said during a presentation at Prudential's Back-to-School Consumer Conference in New York.
Anheuser-Busch also plans to roll out a string of new products, including a new low-carb Bacardi Silver Green Apple (search) and 16-ounce aluminum bottles for Michelob, Michelob Light and Anheuser World Select (search).
To help promote its flagship brand, Budweiser, the company plans to launch a new advertising campaign under the slogan "Fresh Beer Tastes Better." The campaign will be promoted heavily in bars and other places where beer is sold, Anheuser- Busch said.
"We will explain to consumers that beer that isn't fresh is stale and has a strong aftertaste that is unappealing to most people," Anheuser-Busch President August Busch said during the presentation. "Our beers are more drinkable and refreshing than the competition."
For the first half of this year domestic beer industry shipments are on track for a solid recovery after a soft 2003, the company said.
Sales to retailers in the third quarter to date have dipped 1.2 percent, but are up 0.8 percent year-to-date, the company said. It expects sales to wholesalers to increase about 1 percent for the full year.
Anheuser-Busch recently paid $692 million for China's Harbin brewery to capitalize on that country's growing economy. The latest earnings per share forecast includes the impact of the Harbin acquisition and excludes the benefit of a commodity hedge gain in the first quarter, Busch said.
In late July, the brewer said its quarterly profit rose as the company increased prices on its beers and consumers bought high-end brands.
But the company also trimmed its earnings-per-share growth forecast for 2004 to 11.7 percent, excluding a $19.5 million gain from the sale of commodity hedges the company recorded in the first quarter, from 12 percent.
On Wednesday, Anheuser-Busch said it now expects 2004 earnings per share to be up 11 percent over the previous year.
Anheuser-Busch shares were down 69 cents, or 1.3 percent, at $51.88 Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange (search).