The problem is that people just aren't drinking as much beer as they used to, and Anheuser-Busch just isn't producing a whole lot of growth. Late on Tuesday, this market-dominating brewer announced that earnings for 2005 would be lower than previously hoped, in part because of lower domestic shipments. For the first quarter, Anheuser-Busch saw sales to wholesalers drop 2.7% and sales from wholesalers to retailers drop about 1%.
To be fair, this isn't really an Anheuser-Busch-specific problem. The U.S. beer market has been generally weak since 2003 as many consumers have switched to wine or spirits as their intoxicants of choice.
Only a short time ago, rival SABMiller
So, here we have a stalwart of American industry that dominates its market (49% domestic market share) and is trading at a 52-week low. What's more, the company commands high margins and returns on capital and strong brand loyalty, and its product is consumed repeatedly and is nearly synonymous with "beer" to many people.
It must be time to back up the truck, mortgage the house, sell the cat, and buy shares. Right?
Well, maybe not.
Frankly, I've never quite understood why so many value investors love Anheuser-Busch so much. I certainly can appreciate the virtues of the company's wide economic moat, but where's the growth?
Doing some quick back-of-the-envelope math, I see that Anheuser-Busch has grown revenue at a compound rate of 5% for the last three and five years, grown net income by 9.5% and 9.8%, and grown "owner earnings" (net income plus depreciation minus capital expenditures) by 3.6% and 5.3% respectively.
By comparison, Coca-Cola
While I admit that I might be missing something here in my abbreviated analysis of Anheuser-Busch, I just can't see the compelling argument to buy it. What's more, if wine and spirits are where the action's at, I'd think that Constellation Brands
For more intoxicating investment insight:
- Bud's Product Push
- Diageo: Cash, Dividends on Tap
- Coke's a Value Stock
- King of Beers Losing Its Crown?
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares). What's more, he's more of a Foster's fan.