Last updated: April 24, 2013 5:23 pm

Global appetite for Heineken slips

Heineken Beer Bottles©Reuters

Shares in Heineken dropped after the Dutch brewer reported that global appetite for its beer had fallen in the first quarter compared with a year earlier.

The results came as a surprise for the markets after the group’s strong performance in the fourth quarter last year.

The world’s third-largest brewer by revenue saw its sales rise 8 per cent year-on-year to €4.15bn, but that was largely down to its acquisition last year of Asia Pacific Breweries, maker of Tiger beer.

On an organic basis, revenue fell 2.7 per cent and global beverage volumes declined 4.7 per cent. In western Europe, volumes dropped more than 8 per cent.

Heineken chalked up the poor numbers to this year’s prolonged spell of winter weather, along with weak economies and austerity measures in Europe. The declines were slightly offset by a 1.8 per cent growth in revenue per litre, reflecting price rises and the group’s increasing focus on premium brands.

The group also pointed to higher excise taxes in Nigeria and new sales restrictions in Russia.

Net profits rose 37 per cent year on year to €227m. But the results were far below analysts’ consensus expectations, which had called for organic revenue growth of 2.2 per cent.

Heineken cautioned that the first quarter is generally the least indicative for the year, and that the quarter contained one fewer shopping day than in 2012. The group said it had held or increased market share in all of its regions.

But in a conference call with analysts, René Hooft Graafland, chief financial officer, said the results had been so poor that the group no longer held to its guidance that revenues and earnings in 2013 would be higher than in the previous year.

Robert Jan Vos, an analyst at ABN Amro, said: “It could be all weather and trading days, VAT and excise taxes, but the bottom line is that the first quarter has led to 2013 becoming a low-growth year.”

The numbers were “disappointing even taking into account the low importance of [the first quarter] for full-year volumes and earnings”, noted Richard Withagen, an analyst at SNS Securities.

The one bright spot was the Asia-Pacific region, where beer volume grew 8 per cent, continuing a long-standing trend. The growth in Asia underlined why Heineken was willing to pay a high price last year to acquire Asia Pacific Breweries in a bidding war with Thai Beverage, controlled by Thai billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi.

Heineken shares fell more than 5 per cent to €54.77 on the Amsterdam exchange. 

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