Strong growth in the emerging markets of Africa, Asia and Latin America helped brewing giant SABMiller beat forecasts with a 19 percent rise in annual earnings while Europe and North America proved tougher.
The world's second-largest brewer and maker of Miller Lite, Peroni and Grolsch said trading in its emerging markets, which provide over 80 percent of its earnings, were improving led by Africa and Asia while Latin America was back in growth.
Chief Executive Graham Mackay added a note of caution for Europe and North America, highlighting the uncertainty in the outlook for inflation and the pace of recovery especially with high levels of unemployment in markets like the United States.
Africa and Asia are trucking along as if the world financial crisis had not happened, Latin America is less bullish but is back in growth, the U.S. shows no signs of recovery - not worse or better - while Europe is getting better slowly, he told a results conference call on Thursday.
He added that beer price rises would be made selectively across markets taking into account an expected moderate rise in raw material input costs, competition and its aim to make beer more affordable in some markets like Colombia.
We expect these solid results at least to hold the SABMiller share price at its current level, more than justifying the premium rating to the sector with a very impressive rate of organic growth, said analyst Matthew Webb at house broker JP Morgan Cazenove.
SABMiller shares were flat at 22.61 pounds at 5:07 a.m. EDT.
The accelerating profit growth supports our buy thesis that across most of SAB's far flung regions, business conditions continue to improve, said Adam Spielman at brokers Citi
The London-based company reported adjusted earnings per share of 191.5 U.S. cents for the year to end-March, above 189.5 cents from a company compiled consensus and also a Reuters SmartEstimate of 186.2 cents.
The annual dividend rose 19 percent to 81 cents a share.
The brewer, which brews Castle, Snow and Aquila beers, stuck with its inflation outlook to see its cost of goods including barley, aluminum and glass rise by low single digit percentage in its current year to March 2012, but Mackey said better south hemisphere barley harvests would help limit any rise.
Mackay declined to comment on potential takeover targets such as Australia's top brewer Foster's Group, African brewer Castel and Brazil's second biggest brewer Schincariol.
Asked whether he saw SABMiller as a target for the world's biggest brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev -- as has been speculated by some analysts -- he said if anyone wanted to buy SABMiller it was his job to make sure it was at a high price.
Group revenues rose 7 percent to $28.3 billion and operating profits or EBITA were up 15 percent to $5.0 billion helped by strong profits growth in Latin America, Africa, Asia and also North America, due partly to price rises there and cost savings at its MillerCoors joint venture.
Other brewers have seen improving trading, with Heineken
growing volumes in the first quarter, Carlsberg seeing its key Russian market recovering and AB InBev saying beer volumes will improve in the second quarter.
SABMiller shares have risen since mid-March but still underperformed the FTSE 100 since the start of the year by 3 percent and trade on 16.4 times forecast earnings for the current year compared to AB InBev on 15.8, Carlsberg on 15.1 and Heineken on 14.7.
(Reporting by David Jones; Editing by Hans Peters and Sophie Walker)