Japanese brewer, Asahi Breweries Ltd, the country's leading beer maker, recorded a more than fourfold increase in group net profits for the first half of 2002. The company posted a group net profit of Y10.72 billion ($89m) for January to June, against Y2.45 billion last year. Sales were 4.1% down at Y634.06 billion.

However, Asahi lowered its full-year forecast in anticipation of tougher competition in the second half to Y17 billion compared with its February forecast of Y22 billion. The company also reduced its sales estimate by 3.4% to Y1.42 trillion.

Asahi's beer shipments fell by 9.2% in the first half, hit by strong demand for happoshu. However, total market figures for June appeared to show that the happoshu boom is finally slowing. The statistics showed happoshu shipments falling year-on-year in June, the first such decline since May 1996.

Asahi also reported that its soft drinks subsidiary, Asahi Soft Drinks Co Ltd, posted a first-half net loss of 1.92 billion yen.