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San Miguel 1st-Qtr Profit Rises 30%, Beating Forecast

San Miguel Corp., the largest Philippine food and beverage company, said first-quarter profit surged 30 percent, beating analysts’ forecasts, boosted by beer sales at home and abroad.

Profit at the Manila-based company rose to 1.74 billion pesos ($31 million) from 1.34 billion pesos a year ago. A Bloomberg News survey of five analysts had a median forecast of 1.5 billion pesos. Operating profit rose a third to 3.4 billion pesos as sales rose 15 percent, Chairman Eduardo Cojuangco said.

"We’re doing very well," Cojuangco said during the annual stockholders’ meeting, without providing other details.

Campaign rallies ahead of the May 10 general election probably boosted beverage sales at home, some analysts said. Candidates traditionally serve free food and drinks to boost support. There are more than 17,000 positions up for grabs, including president and vice president, in the Philippines, where San Miguel sells nine of every 10 bottles of beer.

"Given San Miguel’s extensive distribution system, coupled with its dominant brands," the company is a "prime beneficiary" of election spending, Carol Kabigting, an analyst at ABN Amro Securities Philippines Inc., said in a 14-page report before the earnings were released.

Beer

Operating profit from the domestic beer business rose about a third to 2.17 billion pesos in the first quarter as sales climbed 28 percent to 9.5 billion pesos. International beer sales rose 14 percent to $58.7 million. San Miguel didn’t provide operating profit.

"Management attributes this to election spending and its improved beer strategy," Tina Ibarra, an analyst at UBS Securities Philippines Inc., said before the earnings were released. ``We think beer sales were also able to piggyback’’ on the wider retail coverage of the soft drinks business.

San Miguel acquired 86 percent of the local soft drinks market and 70 percent of the processed meat under Cojuangco’s tenure as chairman beginning in 1998. He was dubbed Pacman by the local press, which compared his appetite for buying companies with the computer game creature that eats everything in its path.

His three-year, $1.2 billion buying spree allowed San Miguel to gain control of half of the Philippine bottled-water market and to reacquire Coca-Cola Bottlers. Cojuangco said today he plans to make San Miguel one of the top 10 Asian food and beverage makers.

Ice Cream

The company will compete with Nestle SA in the ice cream business starting this year. Cojuangco forecast San Miguel will compete with 200 Nestle products, including coffee and ice cream.

He pulled San Miguel out of the ice cream business in 1998, when he sold the company’s stake in a local venture to Nestle, the world’s largest foodmaker. The sale agreement barred San Miguel from competing with Nestle for five years. The accord expired last year.

"San Miguel’s operations are reaching good levels," said Spencer Yap, head of research at BPI Securities Corp. "The company is cash rich and it has become a multi-product company."

San Miguel’s Class A shares, which only Filipinos can own, surged 2.6 percent to a 15-month high of 58.5 pesos at the noon close in Manila before the earnings were released. The Class B shares, which overseas investors can own, jumped 5.7 percent to 74 pesos, the highest since July 21, 1999.

Bloomberg - 20 avril 2004
 
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