The world's largest beermaker, Anheuser-Busch, has delivered an upbeat statement for 2002 and 2003, saying yesterday that its shipments of beer to US wholesalers hit a record high in 2002. It also went on to reiterate its earnings growth estimates for 2002 and 2003.

Company president August A. Busch IV said: "We are extremely pleased to report that our domestic beer shipments to wholesalers grew to an all-time high of 101.8m barrels in 2002 - increasing 2.1m barrels or 2.1% over 2001.

"For the first time, total domestic shipments exceeded the 100m barrel milestone. This record achievement, led by the Bud family and the successful introductions of Michelob Ultra and Bacardi Silver, reflects the hard work and dedication by all of our employees and wholesaler partners across the country," Busch noted.

Wholesaler sales-to-retailers grew 1.6% for the full year and declined 0.3% in the fourth quarter. The company said sales-to-retailers volume in the fourth quarter 2002 reflected a difficult comparison to fourth quarter 2001 sales that were up 5% due to unseasonably warm weather and the resumption of consumer activity after the September 11 tragedy.

Fourth quarter 2002 sales-to-retailers represented a 2.3% compound annual growth rate from fourth quarter 2000.

The company backed its prior estimate for 2002 earnings growth of 14% a share and 18.5% growth in the fourth quarter. The company also reiterated its initial earnings per share growth target of 12% for 2003. It had given those estimates in November and October last year.

Analysts currently expect earnings of 32 cents per share on average for the fourth quarter, compared with 27 cents, a year earlier, according to Thomson First Call. For 2002, they expect $2.20 a share on average, while in 2003 they see $2.47 a share on average.

Anheuser-Busch will announce fourth-quarter and full-year 2002 results on February 5.