The year 2003 didn't go exactly as planned for Anheuser-Busch (NYSE:BUD), but the company's brand and reach still powered it to record earnings.

The world's largest brewer saw fourth-quarter profits grow 12.5% to $0.36 per share as revenue edged up 3.5%. It was the 21st consecutive quarter of double-digit EPS growth -- quite impressive considering the recent bear market. The company earned $2.48 per share for the full year on revenue of $16.3 billion. That's 12.7% and 4% higher, respectively, than 2002.

Things could have been better, however. The Atkins diet-fueled low-carbohydrate craze hurt Bud Light's growth and benefited rival Miller Lite, which has half the carbs. Bud Light, the best-selling beer in the U.S., still grew sales, but results were below expectations.

On the bright side, management showed off its skills by rolling out the low-carb Michelob Ultra, which CEO Patrick Stokes called "an outstanding success in 2003 at the super-premium price point." After exceeding all expectations, we'll probably see greater marketing support for this brand in 2004.

Another sharp move is the company's recent decision to reformulate Natural Light to reduce its carbs to match Miller Lite's 3.2 grams per bottle. Stokes says this will give Anheuser-Busch a low-carb beer "at the very opposite end of the price and image spectrum" of Michelob Ultra. It's a good way to attack Miller Lite without cannibalizing sales of Michelob Ultra.

In summary, Anheuser-Busch's 2003 showed us that even well-managed companies will hit some potholes along the way. The best, however, are built well enough to prevent serious problems.

Do you think management's steering the right course for Anheuser-Busch? Let us know on the Anheuser-Busch discussion board.

Rex Moore prefers Bud and owns shares in Anheuser-Busch.