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Heineken shares crash as sales in austerity-hit Europe fall flat

HEINEKEN, the world's third- biggest brewer, reined back its expectations for annual growth after reporting an unexpected decline in first-quarter sales, sending the shares down the most in 20 months.

So-called organic volume and revenue will improve this year at a slower pace than the company had anticipated as tough conditions in austerity-hit markets in Europe as well as a slowdown in Nigerian sales hold back purchases, the drinks company said.

Heineken fell as much as 6pc in Amsterdam trading, the steepest intraday decline since August 24, 2011.

"Global market conditions remain volatile, contributing to a weaker-than-expected first quarter," the brewer said.

"Challenging trading conditions in austerity-affected markets in Europe and inflationary pressures in Nigeria are expected to continue to impact volume development for the balance of the year, leading to a moderation in organic growth expectations."

In addition to sliding sales in western Europe, the brewer also reported lower volume in the central and eastern part of the continent, Asia Pacific and the Americas.

"It was always going to be a tough quarter, but it seems to have been even worse than feared," Jonathan Fyfe, an analyst at Mirabaud Securities in London, wrote in a note to clients.

"We expect to lower our forecasts."

The shares dropped 5.6pc to €54.47 in trading in Amsterdam, trimming this year's gain to 8.3pc.

Heineken, which gets the largest portion of its revenue from western Europe, posted an 8.8pc decline in beer volume in the region.

Central and Eastern European volume dropped 3.7pc as Russian beer tax increases and regulation to stop sales of the drink in freestanding kiosks cut demand.

Heineken is trying to offset stagnant developed markets with sales in faster-growing economies.

It bought out its joint-venture partner's stake in Asia Pacific Breweries for $5.6bn (Singapore dollars) last year to gain greater control over south-east Asian markets including Vietnam. The APB integration is "progressing well," Heineken said. Consolidated beer volume in Asia Pacific fell 1.4pc.

Volume in the Americas also fell as Mexican demand waned due to bad weather and the Brazilian beer market declined.

Unfavourable currency movements reduced revenue by €34m, or 0.9pc, the company said.

Earnings before interest and taxation slid at a pace in "mid single-digits," excluding some items and the effect of acquisitions and currency fluctuations, Heineken said.

Results for the year will also be affected by a charge related to different accounting standards, reducing adjusted net profit by €75m, the company said.

Analysts had expected annual profit on that basis of €1.86bn.

Irish Independent