Consumer Products

Why Even Anheuser-Busch Can't Get Any Love in Turbulent Times

Jon C. Ogg

When investors hear about defensive stocks being the place to hide in periods of uncertainty or during a rough market, beer historically has been one of those go-to spots. After all, people drink beer to celebrate and they drink beer when they are feeling down. Yet, it turns out that beer has been far less defensive for investors, and there may be even more turbulence ahead.

Anheuser-Busch InBev S.A./N.V. (NYSE: BUD) is supposed to be the king of beers. But with the traditional mass-market beers fighting craft beers, there are some additional concerns as well. Independent research firm Argus has downgraded Anheuser-Busch to Hold from Buy.

There are many issues to consider, one being the recent decision to reduce the common stock dividend. This is a signal for some investors that the company’s own outlook and expectations may be getting more challenging. By reducing the dividend by half, the world’s largest beer giant made holding its stock harder in terms of paying investors dividends until things turn back around.

Several other issues have been addressed that aren’t exactly going in favor of Anheuser-Busch. Argus pointed out that the company has been erratic on earnings, after having missed its estimates for three of the past five quarters. And on the technical front, its technical pattern was said to remain bearish while this stock generally has underperformed the growth-oriented U.S. market over the past two years.

One thing to consider here is that Anheuser-Busch has a complicated structure. It is an amalgamation of multiple beer companies in multiple nations. The company is based in Belgium and reports results in U.S. dollars. Its transformative merger with SABMiller was completed in October 2016.

Other issues are being cited even before a priority of returning cash to shareholders, with the disappointing dividend cut. The first priority was to invest in its brands in order to take full advantage. The second priority is to pay down debt, and the third was M&A potential.

John Eade of Argus cited multiple risks from competition:

Anheuser-Busch InBev faces business risks similar to those of other brewers, including competition, raw material cost inflation, changes in beer consumption trends, and regulatory restrictions. The company also faces currency risk, as it sells its products worldwide and has significant debt denominated in foreign currencies. The company competes with other brewers and beverage companies on brand image, price, quality, customer service, and the strength of its distribution network. Although it has expanded its market share through M&A, its rivals have pursued similar strategies. The company’s products also face competition from independent craft brewers as well as from popular local brands in many countries.

Still, it’s not all a downer of a report. Eade further said:

Looking ahead, we expect Anheuser-Busch InBev to benefit from underpenetration in emerging markets, increased demand for premium beers, and expanding sales of “near-beer” and nonalcoholic beverages. In addition, although future M&A deals are not included in our earnings model, we would not be surprised to see further acquisitions over time. The recent earnings reports have been erratic, however (the company has missed expectations in three of the past five quarters) and the technical pattern remains bearish. We will look to return this company to the BUY list once earnings become more consistent or the technical picture improves.

Anheuser-Busch may not feel like the King of Beers during a trading session when defensive stocks are among the only ones performing well. Its American depositary shares were last seen down 1.8% at $73.25, in a 52-week range of $72.88 to $118.35. Even with all the bad performance in the shares, Anheuser-Busch has a market cap of more than $140 billion.