The US brewing giant Anheuser-Busch once again reported a strong set of figures today with a rise in third quarter net income of 6.8% to US$664.3m, up from US$622m, a year earlier, helped by a positive pricing environment and good market share performance.

Net sales, which exclude excise taxes, increased 4.7% to US$3.88 billion from $3.71 billion. For the first nine months of 2003, Anheuser-Busch said its market share grew to 50.1% of the US beer market, compared to 48.9% for the same period in 2002.

Patrick Stokes, president and chief executive officer said: "Anheuser-Busch achieved its 20th consecutive quarter of solid double-digit earnings per share growth. The beer-pricing environment remains favourable and our market share performance has been strong," said Stokes.

Domestic revenue per barrel grew 3.5% and 3.3% in the third quarter and nine months of 2003, respectively, compared to the same periods in 2002.

"These significant increases in revenue per barrel were enhanced by consumers trading up to our super premium Michelob family," the company said.

Domestic revenue per barrel growth drove improvements in profit margins and return on capital employed. For the nine months of 2003, gross margin increased 30 basis points to 41.7%, while operating margin increased 60 basis points to 25.2%. Return on capital employed improved to 18.6%, an increase of 100 basis points over the past 12 months.

AB said domestic beer sales-to-wholesalers volume increased 0.7% for the third quarter of 2003 versus the third quarter 2002 and 0.9% for the nine months of 2003.

The company anticipates full-year beer shipments volume to be up just under 1%.

Mark Swartzberg, the drinks analysts at Legg Mason said: "Investors concerned the story "can't get better" should consider that industry shipments are poised to accelerate in the next 12 months, the > company's volume and gross margin trends should also accelerate due in part to Mich Ultra standing at a 2.5% share and lapping an average 2003 share of approximately 1.5%, and that major nonbusiness risks including unfavorable labor relations and materially increasing excise taxes are substantially abating."