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Bud Light backlash fails to dampen Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Q4 earnings

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                                Six-packs of Bud Light, Budweiser and Michelob Ultra are displayed at a liquor store, Wednesday, in Fairfield, Calif. Anheuser-Busch InBev — maker of Budweiser, Bud Light, Stella Artois and Corona — reported better-than-expected net income in the fourth quarter despite lower beer volumes.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Six-packs of Bud Light, Budweiser and Michelob Ultra are displayed at a liquor store, Wednesday, in Fairfield, Calif. Anheuser-Busch InBev — maker of Budweiser, Bud Light, Stella Artois and Corona — reported better-than-expected net income in the fourth quarter despite lower beer volumes.

FRANKFURT, Germany >> Anheuser-Busch InBev — maker of Budweiser, Bud Light, Stella Artois and Corona — reported better-than-expected net income in the fourth quarter despite lower beer volumes.

The Leuven, Belgium-based beverage company said today that its fourth-quarter operating earnings, which exclude financial factors such as interest and taxes, rose 7% to $19.98 billion, or 82 cents per share. That was ahead of the 76-cent profit analysts expected, according to FactSet.

Fourth quarter revenue rose 6% to $14.5 billion. That was lower than the $15.5 billion analysts were expecting. Beer volumes were down nearly 4% globally for the quarter, although non-beer sales were up 3%.

U.S. revenue declined 17.3% in the fourth quarter and 9.5% for the full year. Bud Light, the company’s best-selling U.S. brand, faced a conservative backlash last year after it sent a commemorative can to transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney. Transgender rights supporters also deserted the brand, saying it didn’t do enough to support Mulvaney.

AB InBev CEO Michel Doukeris said today that Bud Light has been slowly regaining its U.S. market share since last May. The company has refocused its advertising on sporting events and concerts.

“I think that we are making progress. It’s not at the fast pace that we were expecting or that we’ve been working for. But nevertheless, progress is in place,” Doukeris said during a conference call with investors.

He said the company’s other brands, including Michelob Ultra and Cutwater spirits, have gained some of the U.S. shelf space that Bud Light lost.

There also was some good news for AB InBev in the U.S. late Wednesday. It avoided a strike by 5,000 of its U.S. workers after reaching a tentative contract agreement with the Teamsters union. Workers are expected to vote on the agreement next week.

The company performed better in Europe in the fourth quarter, where it increased revenue despite declining volumes and also grew operating profit. In China, revenue jumped 11% despite lower volumes. Doukeris said Chinese sales were strong for premium and super-premium brands.

The company said it would increase its dividend to shareholders by 9% to 82 cents per share.

AB InBev shares were down nearly 4% in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

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