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Carlsberg Raises 2004 Profit Forecast on Acquisitions

Carlsberg A/S, the world’s fifth-largest brewer, raised its forecast for full-year profit growth to as much as 27 percent after saying the first-quarter loss narrowed and it will pay less to service the debt used to buy Germany’s Holsten Brauerei AG and the rest of its brewing unit.

The Valby, Denmark-based beermaker expects earnings excluding goodwill to rise to as high as 1.5 billion kroner ($250 million) from 1.18 billion kroner in 2003. The company’s previous forecast was for growth of as much as 19 percent to 1.4 billion kroner.

Carlsberg, like SABMiller Plc and Interbrew SA, is betting acquisitions will fuel earnings growth. It bought Holsten in January in a bid that valued it at 1.07 billion euros ($1.3 billion), and in February bought the stake in Carlsberg Breweries owned by Orkla ASA for 14.8 billion kroner to benefit from all the income generated by its main brewing business.

"More cash is going to flow into Carlsberg than in the past because of this stake," said Edouard Dubuis, who manages 40 million Swiss francs ($31 million) worth of consumer goods stocks, including Carlsberg shares, at Clariden Bank in Zurich. "I think they will make more add-on acquisitions, probably in Asia."

Shares of Carlsberg rose 2 kroner, or 0.7 percent, to 295.5 kroner at 10:42 a.m. in Copenhagen. The stock has climbed 30 percent in the past 12 months, more than the 23 percent gain in the nine-member Bloomberg Europe Beverage Index.

Favorable Comparison

Holsten, which posted an 11 percent gain in first-quarter beer sales, will help lift Carlsberg’s full-year revenue to as high as 38 billion kroner and will be included in Carlsberg’s earnings from the current quarter. All profit from Carlsberg Breweries has been added to its parent’s results from March 1.

The purchases helped more than double net interest-bearing debt to 29 billion kroner by the end of the first quarter from 12 billion kroner on March 31, 2003.

"It has now appeared that we can freeze the cost of interest at a lower level than we expected," said Margrethe Skov, a spokeswoman for 157-year-old brewer. Skov declined to give details.

The maker of Carlsberg Export and Tuborg beers also reported today its net loss contracted to 96 million kroner in the first quarter from 126 million kroner a year earlier as beer shipments rose 8 percent and borrowing costs declined.

Weak Winter

"This apparently strong quarter-on-quarter growth is due to a very weak winter last year, particularly in Western and Eastern Europe, compounded by some currency effects," analysts at Credit Suisse First Boston in London wrote in a research note published before today’s earnings report.

The brewer’s results were buoyed by a comparison with the first quarter of 2003, when beer consumption by tourists worldwide was crimped as some canceled or postponed foreign trips in the run- up to the war in Iraq. Currencies also worked against the company in the year-earlier period, analysts said.

As a result of currency effects in the latest quarter, sales fell 1 percent to 6.77 billion kroner. Revenue calculated in local currencies climbed 3 percent.

Revenue fell 5 percent in Western Europe, compared with gains of 6 percent in Russia and Eastern Europe and 47 percent in Asia.

"Carlsberg in Western Europe was weak," said Gerard Rijk, an analyst at ING Barings in Amsterdam. "My sell recommendation will continue."

Russia, China

European brewers are expanding in Russia, Eastern Europe, and China to spur sales growth as beer consumption stalls in Western Europe and the U.S.

Interbrew, the Belgian brewer of Stella Artois, last week said growth in Russian beer shipments was ``exceptional’’ in the first quarter. It agreed earlier this year to buy Brazil’s Cia. de Bebidas das Americas to grow in Latin America.

Carlsberg announced plans in March to set up a beer venture in China to add a sixth brewery in the world’s biggest beer- producing country. Like Scottish & Newcastle Plc, SABMiller, Heineken NV and Anheuser-Busch Cos., it’s strengthening its foothold there amid forecasts the $6 billion market will grow 6 percent a year this decade.

The outlook for growth in the Chinese beer market helped prompt London-based SABMiller yesterday to bid HK$3.04 billion ($391 million) for Harbin Brewery Group Ltd. in the northeast of the country after Anheuser-Busch earlier in the week bought a 29 percent stake in the Chinese beermaker.

The offer for Harbin Brewery, of which SABMiller already owns more than 29 percent, may lead to a bidding war for the Chinese company, analysts said.

Football Sponsorship

Carlsberg was expected today to post a loss of 97 million kroner, according to the median forecast of six analysts polled by SME for Denmark’s RB-Boersen before today’s report. Sales at the brewer were forecast to rise 3.9 percent to 7.17 billion kroner, the survey showed.

Full-year revenue may get a boost from Carlsberg’s sponsorship of the 2004 European soccer tournament in Portugal as well as from television advertising across Europe related to the event, Clariden’s Dubuis said.

The tournament runs from June 12 to July 4, with matches scheduled for 10 stadiums in eight cities.

Bloomberg - 11 May 2004
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