The US brewer Anheuser-Busch Cos said yesterday that it had seen its full year consolidated sales increase 5.6% leading to growth in reported earnings of 11.7%, as a continued favourable pricing environment helped drive domestic revenues, despite a fall in domestic volumes.

Domestic beer revenue per barrel increased 2.3% in the fourth quarter and grew 2.5% for the full year 2004 versus the same periods in 2003.

However, the company said that gross profit margin declined 110 basis points in the fourth quarter 2004, to 34.2%, while operating margin decreased 10 basis points to 13.9%. For the full year 2004, gross margin was down 40 basis points, to 39.9% and operating margin was down 10 basis points vs. 2003, to 22.5%.

"The declines in margins are primarily due to the impact of higher sales and higher costs from the company's commodity-based can manufacturing and aluminum recycling operations," the company said.

Domestic beer gross profit margin decreased 30 basis points for the fourth quarter and increased 20 basis points in the full year.

Anheuser said that wholesaler sales-to-retailers were down 3.2% in the fourth quarter and declined 0.3% for the full year versus 2003 levels.

"Both sales-to-retailers and sales-to-wholesalers were adversely impacted during the year by abnormally wet weather in many key markets, especially during the key summer selling season. This was coupled with the general slowdown in consumer spending during the year, particularly among lower income consumers," a statement said.

The company's domestic market share (excluding exports) for the full year 2004 was 49.6%, compared to 2003 market share of 49.7%.

International beer volumes increased 120.5% for the fourth quarter and 64.8% for full year 2004. International beer volume includes 2.5m barrels in the fourth quarter and 5.2m barrels for the full year related to Harbin, which the company acquired in the third quarter. Excluding Harbin, international beer volume grew 2.7% in the fourth quarter and 3.2% for the full year.

These increases are primarily due to higher sales volume in China, Canada and the UK.

Worldwide Anheuser-Busch beer sales volume for the fourth quarter and full year 2004 rose 8.8% and 5.3%, to 27.6m and 116.8m barrels, respectively, versus 2003. Worldwide Anheuser-Busch beer brand volume is comprised of domestic volume and international volume.

"Anheuser-Busch has achieved another year of solid growth in earnings per share and we expect earnings per share growth in the 6% to 9% range for 2005 compared with 2004, excluding the one-time items in 2004 and including the impact of expensing stock options in 2005 and 2004," said CEO Patrick Stokes.

"We continue to target double-digit earnings per share growth over the longer-term," said Stokes.