Maker of Bud Light sees jump in quarterly profit

A transport truck waits outside the Anheuser-Busch factory in the Van Nuys section of Los Angeles on Wednesday.
(AP/Richard Vogel)
A transport truck waits outside the Anheuser-Busch factory in the Van Nuys section of Los Angeles on Wednesday. (AP/Richard Vogel)

FRANKFURT, Germany -- Anheuser-Busch InBev -- maker of Budweiser, Bud Light, Stella Artois and Corona -- reported better-than-expected net income in the fourth quarter despite lower beer volumes.

The Leuven, Belgium-based beverage company said Thursday that its fourth-quarter operating earnings, which exclude financial factors such as interest and taxes, rose 7% to $19.98 billion, or 82 cents per share. That was ahead of the 76-cent profit analysts expected, according to FactSet.

Fourth-quarter revenue rose 6% to $14.5 billion. That was lower than the $15.5 billion analysts were expecting. Beer volumes were down nearly 4% globally for the quarter, although non-beer sales were up 3%.

U.S. revenue declined 17.3% in the fourth quarter and 9.5% for the full year. Bud Light, the company's best-selling U.S. brand, faced a conservative backlash last year after it sent a commemorative can to transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney. Transgender rights supporters also deserted the brand, saying it didn't do enough to support Mulvaney.

AB InBev CEO Michel Doukeris said Thursday that Bud Light has been slowly regaining its U.S. market share since last May. The company has refocused its advertising on sporting events and concerts.

"I think that we are making progress. It's not at the fast pace that we were expecting or that we've been working for. But nevertheless, progress is in place," Doukeris said during a conference call with investors.

He said the company's other brands, including Michelob Ultra and Cutwater spirits, have gained some of the U.S. shelf space that Bud Light lost.

There also was some good news for AB InBev in the U.S. late Wednesday. It avoided a strike by 5,000 of its U.S. workers after reaching a tentative contract agreement with the Teamsters union. Workers are expected to vote on the agreement next week.

The union had threatened a strike at the brewer's 12 U.S. plants if an agreement on a new five-year contract wasn't reached by midnight Thursday. The Teamsters union represents 5,000 Anheuser-Busch workers who brew and package beer and even take care of the company's legendary Clydesdale horses.

"Teamsters make the beer, Teamsters make Anheuser-Busch successful and our members deserve the best contract. That is what we fought for and won today," Teamsters General President Sean O'Brien said in a statement.

Anheuser-Busch Chief Executive Officer Brendan Whitworth said the contract also makes significant job security commitments.

"Our people are our greatest strength, and we are incredibly pleased to have reached a tentative agreement that continues to recognize the talent, dedication, and hard work of our teams, while also positioning the company for long-term success," Whitworth said in a statement.

The company performed better in Europe in the fourth quarter, where it increased revenue despite declining volumes and also grew operating profit. In China, revenue jumped 11% despite lower volumes. Doukeris said Chinese sales were strong for premium and super-premium brands.

The company said it would increase its dividend to shareholders by 9% to 82 cents per share.

Information for this article was contributed by Dee-Ann Durbin of The Associated Press.

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