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SABMiller Volume Gains as Asia, Africa Offset Europe, U.S.

SABMiller Plc, the brewer that bought Foster’s Group Ltd. last year, reported third-quarter volume growth that met estimates as improved sales in Africa and Asia offset larger-than-expected declines in Europe and the U.S.

The amount of beer sold increased 3 percent, excluding acquisitions and disposals, in the three months ended Dec. 31, the London-based company said today. That matched the median estimate of 12 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

Volume in Europe unexpectedly fell amid what the maker of Grolsch and Peroni described as “intense competition” and “fragile economic conditions.” SABMiller, the world’s second-biggest brewer by volume, is among beermakers seeking to expand outside the U.S. and Europe as economic turmoil, unemployment and government budget-cuts weigh on consumer confidence.

“There are signs it’s getting tough in Europe -- not just in Russia, but in the other regions,” said Trevor Stirling, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein in London.

SABMiller fell 0.1 percent to 2,293 pence in London trading. The stock has risen 1.2 percent this year.

The amount of beer sold in Europe slid 2 percent, missing the median estimate of nine analysts for unchanged volume.

Sales climbed in SABMiller’s biggest market, Latin America, as well as in Africa and Asia. Volume dropped 3.3 percent at the MillerCoors LLC joint venture in North America, compared with a median estimate for a 3 percent decline, as sales of Miller Lite and Coors Lite fell in the region.

Foster’s Takeover

SABMiller bought Australia’s Foster’s in September in a A$10.5 billion ($10.9 billion) acquisition, and the following month announced plans to acquire a stake in Turkey’s Anadolu Efes Biracilik & Malt Sanayii AS.

Foster’s volume for the quarter slid 6 percent on a pro-forma basis, SABMiller said, adding that the Australian beer market “declined at a slightly slower rate in the quarter.”

Foster’s CEO Ari Mervis “has his work cut out in a difficult market,” Martin Deboo and Gideon Adler, analysts at Investec Plc in London, wrote in a note. SABMiller named Mervis as the head of Foster’s, replacing John Pollaers, in December.

The brewer said that financial performance in the quarter was in line with its forecasts. Revenue rose 7 percent, compared with the median estimate of 6 percent growth.

Europe, Africa

European volume was held back by a 6 percent decline in Russia “in a declining beer market.” The company competes with Carlsberg A/S in the country, the fourth-biggest beer market in the world by volume. SABMiller, through the agreement with Anadolu Efes, will become Russia’s second-largest brewer, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. analysts.

Volume rose 11 percent in Africa, and 2 percent in South Africa “in a challenging economic environment,” aided by sales of Castle Lite and Castle Lager. The brewer originated in the country, selling beer to gold prospectors in 1895.

SABMiller said this month it will take management control of the Nigerian operations of an African joint venture with Groupe Castel as part of an organizational shakeup at the unit.

SABMiller is the first of the world’s four biggest brewers to report on trading for the final three months of 2011.

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