Its acronym notwithstanding, chances are you've probably heard about the World Health Organization. (WHO?)
They're the people at the United Nations charged with "shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries, and monitoring and assessing health trends." Organizing the fight against HIV/AIDS, promoting pediatric health, and responding to outbreaks of bird flu and SARS -- that's their thing.
It's all pretty serious stuff. But as it turns out, on their off hours, after the workday's done, the health professionals at WHO are just like ordinary folks. They like to hang out on the patio, shooting the bull, and ... calculating the rates of global alcohol consumption.
And here's what they've come up with now:
We drew up this map based on raw WHO research published on its website. What you see up above are the results for 2007, the most recent for which more-or-less complete data is available. For the few countries for which precise 2007 data is not available (Algeria, Andorra, Congo, Grenada, Kiribati, Micronesia, Palau, Peru, Sao Tome and Principe, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe) -- we've substituted the most recent numbers from 2006 or, if necessary, 2005.
But let's not get too bogged down in details. We've got a nice, big picture to work with here -- so let's focus on that big picture. What does it tell us, as investors, about alcohol consumption trends worldwide?
Land of the free, home of the tipsy
Starting off close to home, we find that Americans (8.7 liters of alcohol consumed annually), and our neighbors to both the north (Canada -- 8.1 liters) and south (El Salvador -- 2.5), are actually pretty modest in our alcohol consumption. We average anywhere from 5 to 10 liters of the equivalent of 100% pure grain alcohol annually. Put in more familiar terms, that would probably max out at 200 liters of 5% alcohol-content beer per year -- barely half a Budweiser a day.
That may not make us the world's strongest growth market. But investors in Americas-centric beer brewers such as Anheuser-Busch InBev (NYSE: BUD ) and Molson-Coors (NYSE: TAP ) can still look forward to modest, mid-single-digit earnings growth from these markets.
The old country
Juicing those growth rates a bit are markets in Western and Eastern Europe, including Russia, where both A-B and Molson do business. Stretching from Portugal in the west, all the way through Russia, Russia, and more Russia in the east, the Eurasian continent is the "wettest" region on Earth, with the populace of some countries consuming as much as three times the alcohol we do here in the Western Hemisphere. (In case you're wondering, and I know you are -- Russia's per-capita alcohol consumption number is 11.4 liters. That's lower than Ireland's, at 13.4 liters).
Beam (NYSE: BEAM ) , which gets 20% of its revenues from the Europe, Middle East, Africa market, is probably leaning pretty heavily on Europe to keep its numbers up, because ...
The Mideast looks dry
No huge surprise here, but if you're looking for drinking companions, the mostly Muslim Middle East and North African regions probably aren't your best bet. Less expected -- but perhaps it should have been -- the tea-producing regions of Southeast Asia are also surprisingly well populated with teetotalers. "Dry" regions boasting less than 5 liters of annual grain alcohol-equivalent consumption also extend deep into Africa.
Incidentally, London-based Diageo (NYSE: DEO ) gets about 27% of its annual revenues from the African and Asian-Pacific markets. Planting a quarter of its business in such dry quarters may not be conducive to growing revenues, however. In contrast, bierbrauer Anheuser-Busch limits its exposure to Asia-Pacific to just 7% of revenues.
Elsewhere in the world, trivia buffs will be interested to learn that former British colonies Australia and Uganda have something else in common -- they're both bright "blue" outposts of alcohol consumption in their regions. And the Aussies will be proud to learn that it's now official, because WHO has confirmed it: They can drink the Kiwis under the table.
But the biggest surprise from this survey has to be that the drunkest country on Earth is ...
Seriously. Look very carefully at the map up, and see if you can find the single splash of red wine in the middle. That's Moldova.
If you haven't tried a Moldovan wine, you're missing out. They may not be as good as some of the great vintages of Georgia -- but they're good enough, and they're cheap. That's probably a big factor behind the fact that, at a staggering 21.1 liters of pure alcohol consumed in 2007, the Republic of Moldova is the reigning world champion of alcoholism, and the drunkest place on the planet.
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