US: Anheuser reaffirms growth targets

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US brewer Anheuser-Busch said yesterday that it expects to achieve its sixth consecutive year of double-digit earnings per share growth in 2004.

Company management told investors and analysts at a presentation in New York that the company reaffirmed its 10 to 11% earnings per share growth target for 2004. This includes dilution from the company's acquisition of Harbin and excludes the benefit of a commodity hedge gain in the first quarter.

W. Randolph Baker, vice president and chief financial officer of Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc., also reaffirmed an initial target range of 7 to 10% earnings per share growth on a reported basis in 2005, reflecting increased marketing investment and higher commodity costs anticipated next year.

Baker said: "We remain confident in our ability to achieve our double-digit earnings per share growth objective over the longer term, with continued improvements in return on capital and a substantial amount of cash returned to shareholders in the form of consistent dividend growth and share repurchase."

Baker told investors that the pricing environment in the domestic beer market remains very favorable and, importantly, is largely consumer driven. The company said it was the eleventh straight year that beers priced below premium have lost share to premium and above priced brands, as consumers continue to trade up.

Beginning in October, the company initiated the first stage of its two-stage annual price increase plan. The second phase is expected to take place in the first quarter of 2005, with the two phases combined covering approximately two-thirds of the company's volume.

"To enhance beer volume and market share growth, Anheuser-Busch is stepping up new product, packaging and other marketing initiatives," Baker continued.

Baker also commented on the company's international beer business, with particular emphasis on the company's expanded participation in the Chinese beer market.

"Anheuser-Busch is developing an important leadership position in China, the world's largest beer market by volume. China is also the fastest growing global beer market in absolute terms, contributing one-third of worldwide beer industry growth over the past five years. With our company's Budweiser operations, our Tsingtao strategic alliance, and our new Harbin acquisition, Anheuser-Busch is well positioned to capitalize on the substantial long-term growth opportunities in the Chinese beer market," he said.

"International beer segment profits have more than tripled over the past five years and will continue to be an important contributor to Anheuser- Busch's earnings growth over the long term," concluded Baker.

Sectors: Beer & cider

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