Rising consumer interest in speciality beers and a fresh round of industry consolidation have given brewers in the US reasons to be optimistic, a report says.

Investment group Standard & Poors handed brewers in the US a "positive" rating this weekend (16 August).

Driving industry growth would be a trend towards speciality beers, it said.

"We expect strength in imports and light beers to continue as new products enter the category, and we see further volume growth in craft brews. Discounting has stabilised, and we see pricing power led by craft brews and imports for 2008."

It added that beer may benefit in the short-term by a "modest" shift by cash-strapped US consumers from wine and spirits.

Consolidation will also benefit the industry, which in the last year has seen a merger between SABMiller and Molson Coors, as well as the takeover of Anheuser-Busch by Belgium's InBev.

"We think that larger brewers will largely be able to keep margins stable due to their economies of scale and ability to lock in contracts for ingredients for longer periods of time," S&P said.

It warned, however, that "aggressive marketing and innovations by spirits and wine companies will continue to drain market share from brewers over the long-term". This meant that "domestic brewers will probably continue to seek out foreign investments to enhance the international growth of their brands".

InBev CEO Carlos Brito has already stated his ambition to make Budweiser a household name in foreign beer markets.