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SABMiller Q4 volumes beat forecasts

Brewing giant SABMiller beat forecasts as it reported a 2% rise in fourth-quarter worldwide underlying beer volumes as emerging markets like Latin America and Africa started to recover.

The London-based owner of Miller Lite, Peroni and Grolsch brands said its quarterly rise in the three months to end-March was helped by an early Easter and weak figures the previous year as the increase beat analyst expectations of a 0.5% rise.

Overall beer volumes for the 12 months to end-March were flat on an underlying basis after stripping out the effect of acquisitions, meeting analyst expectations for the year, the group said in a trading statement.

“This is a strong and upbeat trading statement for SABMiller and leaves the group well-placed to report strong annual results on May 20. Given the favorable geographic mix and with positive momentum continuing into FY 2011 some upgrades are likely,” said analyst Simon Hales at brokers Evolution Securities.

The brewer which earns over 85% of its profits from emerging markets like South Africa, Colombia, Poland and China said its financial performance for the year to end-March was in line with its expectations helped by the strength of many of its operating currencies around the world against the dollar.

SABMiller's beer volumes have been hit by the global downturn while its move to raise prices to cover commodity cost hikes further dampened growth, but falling barley costs and a slow recovery should help the group in the second half of 2010.

The brewer, second largest in the world after Anheuser-Busch InBev, has seen volumes recover slowly from a 1% fall in its first-half to end-September 2009, then a flat Oct-Dec third-quarter as growth in China and other emerging markets such as Latin America and Africa has helped to offset falls in Europe, North America and South Africa.

The group, which brews Castle, Snow, and Pilsner Urquell beers, said annual underlying volumes rose 3% in Latin America, by 6% in Africa, and 7% in Asia, but fell 5% in Europe and dipped 1% in South Africa.

In the United States, where it formed the MillerCoors joint venture in July 2008, sales to retailers fell 2.3% with a 4% fall in the fourth quarter.

SABMiller reports its results for its full year to end-March on May 20. (Reuters)