SABMiller may be facing a slowdown in its key emerging markets

SABMiller may be facing a slowdown in its key emerging markets

It was business as usual for SABMiller in yesterday's (22 November) first-half results - growth in its high-exposure emerging markets outpacing declines in more established corners of the globe equalling a healthy jump in profits. 

It was the winning formula in full-year figures earlier this year and in 2011, and it continues to keep most analysts on side.

"On balance the main emerging markets in which SAB operates remain strong," Jefferies analyst Dirk Van Vlaanderen told Reuters, adding that he expects the company to maintain its growth next year.

Investors were also reassured, and the Daily Telegraph was able to write that SABMiller shares “continued to bubble higher as analysts upgraded the brewer after its strong first-half results”.

So far, so good. However, not everyone was following the party line and the Financial Times was keen to burst some bubbles.

“The question is whether emerging markets can pull the business forward for much longer,” read a blog on the newspaper's website, highlighting analysts Natixis' research that predicts a slowdown in emerging markets between the first and second quarter of the year.

The Wall Street Journal echoed this view. “The brewer continues to invest heavily across Africa amid growing demand for inexpensive and premium beer,” it said.

“But the company faces difficult economic conditions in South Africa, while even in fast-growing Latin America and East Africa, pockets of moderating growth are starting to appear.”

Meanwhile, an ongoing slowdown in China continues to bite into the once booming market. 

China, the world’s biggest beer market, has generated slower growth and thinner margins for SABMiller - a reversal in fortunes that the UK-listed brewer, which co-owns China’s number one brewery, attributes partly to the Chinese leadership transition earlier this month,” the FT said.

The newspaper then quoted SABMiller CEO Graham Mackay as saying the recent transfer of power from Hu Jintao to new China premier Xi Jinping had caused uncertainty in the country. At such times, he said, Chinese people “believe in money under the mattress”.

There was further uncertainly in Australia, but this time from analysts who couldn't agree if SABMiller's Foster's purchase was good or bad for the company.

“Since the Foster’s purchase, SABMiller’s biggest ever, the company has lost its title as Australia’s largest producer and its top-selling Victoria Bitter brand was overtaken by Kirin Holdings Co's XXXX Gold,” Bloomberg pointed out.

The FT, however, noted that the Foster’s unit helped boost overall sales by 11% and operating profits by 16%. “So the deal has made SABMiller bigger and more profitable,” it said, before adding: “But that does not entirely allay concerns about the exposure to Australia, where volumes fell 13% as Foster’s lost share in a shrinking market.”

It was left to SABMiller's management team to get fully behind its Australian acquisition. In a call with investors, Mackay said: “There has been adverse sentiment but we don't see it continuing because the underlying factors in Australia are very solid.”