Anheuser-Busch InBev slashes dividend as beer demand slumps

Americans and Brazilians have soured on drinking mass produced beers like Budweiser and Bud Light.Sha...

Posted: Oct 25, 2018 1:50 PM
Updated: Oct 25, 2018 1:50 PM

Americans and Brazilians have soured on drinking mass produced beers like Budweiser and Bud Light.

Shares of Anheuser-Busch InBev plunged 10% Thursday after the Budweiser and Stella Artois brewer said it was cutting its dividend in half and reported weak demand in those countries.

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Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) said that it needed to slash the dividend to reduce its massive debt load. The company took on a lot of debt to acquire rival SABMiller for $100 billion two years ago.

The dividend cut should allow Anheuser-Busch InBev to save about $4 billion in cash a year, which it could use to pare back its debt, said Pablo Zuanic, an analyst with Susquehanna International Group, in a report Thursday.

A bloated balance sheet isn't the only problem for Anheuser-Busch InBev.

The company has struggled to adapt to changing beer tastes. Anheuser-Busch InBev said that market share for its core Budweiser and Bud Light brands slipped once again in the United States during the quarter. Volume fell in Brazil too.

Overall sales still rose 4.5% during the quarter, largely because the company has been able to raise prices for Bud and Bud Light outside of the United States. It has also introduced newer beers, such as Michelob Ultra Pure Gold and Bud Light Orange in America.

This Bud's not for you? Try a craft brew instead?

But beer drinkers have shunned Budweiser and Bud Light in favor of pricier craft beers and microbrews.

Overall US sales volume fell more than 1% in 2017 while craft beer sales were up 5%, according to The Brewers Association, a trade group for the beer industry. Craft beer now accounts for nearly a quarter of the total US beer market.

Anheuser-Busch InBev has tried to latch onto this trend, scooping up smaller brewers such as Goose Island, Blue Point, 10 Barrel and numerous others in the past few years.

It also owns a more than 30% stake in Craft Brew Alliance (BREW), a publicly traded company that owns the Kona, Widmer Brothers and Redhook beer brands.

Still, it's been a challenging time for Anheuser-Busch InBev and other big beer companies. Shares of Anheuser-Busch InBev and top rival Molson Coors (TAP) have both plummeted more than 30% this year.

Heineken's (HEINY) stock is down 15% in 2018, despite reporting solid third quarter sales Thursday.

And shares of Corona owner Constellation Brands (STZ) have fallen more than 7% as well.

Constellation is hoping that a bet on legal recreational cannabis in Canada can help boost growth. The company has invested more than $4 billion in Canadian marijuana company Canopy Growth (CGC).

Anheuser-Busch InBev has so far not shown a willingness to get into the cannabis business.

But, Adolphus A. Busch V, great-great-grandson of the founder of Anheuser Busch, launched his own cannabis brand last month.

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