Best Brewer Stock: A-B InBev, Boston Beer, or Molson Coors?

Brewing is a gigantic global industry that can offer different kinds of opportunities for investors to profit in the long term. Let´s take a look at three major brewers: Anheuser-Busch InBev (NYSE: BUD  ) , Boston Beer (NYSE: SAM  ) and Molson Coors (NYSE: TAP  ) and see what each of them has to offer.

Anheuser-Busch InBev: The 800-pound gorilla
Anheuser-Busch InBev is the undisputed heavyweight champion in the global beer industry thanks to enormously popular brands like Bud Light, Budweiser, Corona, Skol, Stella Artois, Brahma, and Beck's among others.

The company has a market share of 47.6% in the U.S., 40.6% in Canada as well as leading market positions in key Latin American countries like Brazil and Argentina with 68.5% and 77.7% of the beer market respectively. Belgium, Germany, UK, Russia, Ukraine and China are other countries where this global juggernaut has a relevant market position.

Anheuser-Busch InBev has a market capitalization above $168 billion which makes competitors like Boston Beer and Molson Coors with their respective market caps of $3.09 billion and $9.93 billion look like small beer cans next to an enormous barrel. This is a big plus when it comes to the soundness and reliability it provides for investors, but it also means that it´s harder for the company to generate much growth due to its size and market dominance.

Volumes fell by 1.3% during the last quarter, but the company still delivered an increase of 3% in revenue for the period due to raising prices. Cost savings and synergies helped the company generate a 17.2% increase in normalized earnings per share during the quarter, so management seems to be executing quite well in spite of falling volumes.

The company is leveraging its financial resources to grow via acquisitions; AB-InBev has recently acquired Mexican Brewer Grupo Modelo, the maker of Corona, for 20.1 billion and the company is planning to close the acquisition of five Chinese breweries for $1.05 billion in 2014.

Investors looking for a solid defensive play with rock solid competitive strengths due to its brand presence and economies of scale should look no further than Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Boston Beer is brewing growth
Boston Beer has been one of the major beneficiaries from booming craft beer sales over the last years, the company practically reinvented its niche, and it has in Sam Adams an enormously valuable brand. In addition to that, Boston Beers is expanding into other categories with products like Angry Orchard ciders and Twisted Tea malt beverages.

Jim Koch, co-founder and chairman, has been an enormously valuable asset for the company and its shareholders over the years. The sixth-generation, first-born son to follow in his family's brewing footsteps, Koch brewed his first batch of Samuel Adams Boston Lager in 1984 using the original family recipe developed in 1860. Koch is a major driving force for the company when it comes to focusing on the long term, building brand value and delivering high quality products to consumers.

Boston Beer is clearly firing on all cylinders; the company delivered a 30% increase in revenue during the third quarter of 2013 due to a big increase of 29% in shipments for the period. Earnings per share grew by a whopping 23.5% during the quarter and the company is facing productions constraints due to booming demand. Boston Beer is still far away from any kind of market saturation at this stage. h

The biggest drawback when it comes to Boston Beer is its demanding valuation, the stock trades at a forward P/E ratio of 37.8 versus 18.9 for AB-InBev and 13 times forward earnings for Molson Coors. Still, investors looking for a company with superior growth prospects, unique products and a high quality management team will hardly find a better alternative than Boston Beer.

Molson Coors for bargain hunters
As expressed by the forward P/E ratios, Molson Coors is much cheaper than its peers, and this provides substantial upside potential for the stock if the company manages to reignite growth over the coming quarters.

Unfortunately, the company´s financial performance has been quite uninspiring lately as consumers gravitate toward more sophisticated offerings and the competitive landscape remains challenging for Molson Coors. Net sales decreased by 2% in the last quarter, and worldwide beer volume declined by 0.9% versus the same quarter in the previous year.

The company has a 39% market share in Canada and 29% in the U.S due to valuable brands like Coors Light, Molson Canadian, Carling, Miller Lite, Keystone and Blue Moon among others. Molson Coors is expanding into emerging markets and focusing in product innovation to reinvigorate performance, but it has not achieved much in terms of results so far.

Investors looking for a cheap turnaround play in the sector with plenty of room to recover may want to take a look at Molson Coors, especially if the company starts showing improvements over the coming quarters.

Bottom line
Anheuser-Busch InBev is the solid defensive play of the group. On the other hand, Boston Beer is clearly the company with superior growth potential in the sector, and Molson Coors is the "cheap" alternative for investors willing to bet on a turnaround. Depending on each investor's targets and risk tolerance, the brewing sector is offering alternatives for every taste. As always Foolish investors should do their own research before making any investment decisions. 

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