Heineken blames inflation in Nigeria for poor 2013 growth outlook

By The Citizen

Heineken, the world’s third largest brewer, said austerity-hit Europe and inflation in Nigeria had lowered its expectations for growth this year, after its beer sales fell in every region except Asia in the first three months.

The Dutch brewer, which along with rivals is looking increasingly to Asia for growth, said on Wednesday that sales volumes and revenues would grow this year, but probably at rates lower than in 2012.

Previously Heineken, which brews Europe’s best selling Heineken lager and also Sol, Tiger and Strongbow cider, had forecast growth in 2013 would be at least as high as last year.

Europe’s largest brewer said the first quarter had been weaker than expected and austerity pressures in Europe and the impact of inflation on Nigerians’ spending power would continue.

“What we lost in the first quarter is done. We don’t get that back. Secondly, the rebound in Nigeria is later than expected,” Chief Financial Officer Rene Hooft Graafland told a conference call. “Third, western Europe stays a difficult market.”

Heineken, like brewing rivals, has sought to increase its emerging market presence to tap higher growth, while hiking prices in developed markets. It bought the brewing operations of Mexico’s Femsa in 2010 and took full control of Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) last year.

About 60 percent of operating profit now comes from emerging markets, on a par with rival Anheuser-Busch InBev, from 40 percent in 2007.

Heineken’s shares fell as much as 7.6 percent to a 10-week low of 53.31 euros and were the weakest performers in the FTSEurofirst 300 index of leading European stocks.

However, they have still gained 12.3 percent in the previous three months, greater than the 8.7 percent gain of the STOXX European food and beverage index.

“They have said that the first quarter is not that representative, but the lower volume and revenue growth will be met with some degree of disappointment,” said Bernstein Research analyst Trevor Stirling.

Analysts said they were aware of the exceptionally long winter in northern Europe making people less inclined to go out to drink, France’s 160 percent increase in beer duty and a slowdown in Nigeria.

But falling sales in what are normally growth markets – Brazil, due to an earlier Carnival, the Democratic Republic of Congo after a tax rise, and Russia – as well as broadly flat sales in Mexico, had made the quarter weaker than expected.

Hooft Graafland said the volume declines would not continue.

Heineken said its revenue in the first three months rose 8.1 percent to 4.145 billion euros ($5.39 billion), below the average 4.29 billion euros expected in a Reuters poll of seven banks and brokers.

Excluding the full takeover of APB at the end of last year and currency effects, revenue was down 2.7 percent.

The group said operating profit declined by a mid-single digit percentage on a like-for-like basis, due to lower revenue only partly offset by a cut in marketing expenses and the results of its cost-savings programme.

Full-year margins should be similar to or just slightly higher than those of 2012, the financial director said.

Group beer volumes fell 2.7 percent overall, with declines in all regions except Asia, where the company sold more beer in Vietnam, China, Malaysia and Indonesia. Western Europe was the weakest, with an 8.7 percent drop in beer sales.

For Heineken, the first quarter is seasonally less significant, with more beer sold in the summer. Last year, the first three months represented 21 percent of consolidated beer volume and considerably less in terms of profit contributions.

Heineken is the second of the big four brewers to give figures for the first three months of the year. World number one Anheuser-Busch reports on April 30, Carlsberg on May 7. SABMiller said last week that lager volumes rose 4 percent in the fourth quarter, but fell in Latin America, its biggest region. Volumes grew in Africa, Asia and Europe.