The US brewing giant, Anheuser-Busch, posted earnings of US$269.2m, or 32 cents a share, in the fourth quarter, against US$227.8m, or 26 cents a share, in the corresponding period last year. The earnings were in line with analysts' forecasts.

Gross sales for the quarter rose by 6.8% from US$3.37 billion to US$3.59 billion, while net sales stood at US$3.09 billion, up 7% from US$2.89 billion last year.

Net income from international operations rose by 32.5%, the company said, with a strong performance from Mexican brewer, Grupo Modelo, in which A-B owns a 50% stake, a key driver behind the growth.

For the full year, A-B's earnings reached US$1.93 billion, or $2.20 a share.

The world's largest brewer said that it expected earnings per share for the first quarter to rise "in line" with its 12% growth forecast for the coming full year, on the back of stronger case volumes and buoyant pricing. Growth of 12% over the full year would give full-year earnings for 2003 of US$2.46 a share, while analysts have forecast an average of US$2.47 per share according to a First Call poll.