BRUSSELS (AP) — Anheuser-Busch InBev on Wednesday said second quarter profit rose 13 percent to $1.1 billion, helped by sales of stakes in brewing companies, but cautioned that the recession was flattening beer consumption in key markets worldwide.
The owner of Budweiser, the world's best-selling beer — and some 300 other brands — said its profit compared with a $850 million profit in the same period a year earlier.
Still, ABInbev reported a 1.1 percent drop in global sales in the second quarter, with Carlos Brito, the company's chief executive, saying "the beer industry ... is not immune to economic pressures."
It said that while overall sales faded, those of its signature brands — such as Bud Lite, Harbon, Skol and Brahma — rose by 2.4 percent and show "the greatest growth potential" in their markets around the world.
For the first half of 2009, AB InBev saw a net profit of $1.92 billion, up from $1.25 billion in the same 2008 period.
The company credited the strong performance to its unrelenting drive to raise at least $7 billion from selloffs this year, $1 billion in savings from merging the former InBev and Anheuser-Busch operations and shave $1 billion off total costs and another $500 million from U.S. operations.
During the first half, the company earned one-off gains of $3.56 billion from asset sales.
These included four U.S. packaging plants sold to Ball Corp. of Broomfield, Colorado for $577 million and a 27 percent stake in Chinese beermaker Tsingtao for $900 million. It made another $280 million by selling smaller assets, including Labatt USA, and buildings and land.
On July 24, ABInBev completed the sale of its South Korean beer business for $1.8 billion.
The company is selling off units to help pay off the loans that funded InBev's $52 billion takeover of Anheuser-Busch that formed the company.
ABInBev said second quarter sales fell to 105.2 million hectoliters from 106.4 million in the 2008 period.
Sales fell 0.7 percent in North America, 3.5 percent in parts of Latin America and 5.7 percent in Western Europe, where the company is pushing its own brands and subcontracting less. Demand fell even more in Central and Eastern Europe, where sales dropped 8.9 percent.
In the first half of 2009, ABInBev reported a drop in sales Western Europe of 6.8 percent "driven by a weakening market." Sales were also down in Eastern Europe and Asia.
ABInBev is the result of the November, 2008 merger of Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc., based in St. Louis, and Belgium's InBev based in Leuven, just east of Brussels.
Brito said the integration of Anheuser-Busch and InBev was on track "but many challenges remain."
He said the company will overcome flattening demand by focusing sales and marketing on popular flagship brands such as Bud Light, Harbin, Michelob, Stella Artois, Skol and Brahma — even though the emphasis on premium over lower-price beer has cost it sales in Russia and eastern Europe.