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Analysts admire A-B's performance in bear mkt.

AP -- Investing may lose its appeal in a bear market, but drinking doesn't.

So while the nation's economy sputters and Wall Street suffers, the producer of "The King of Beers" IS enjoying the kind of healthy profits that most companies can only wish they had: 16 straight quarters of earnings-per-share growth.

"In three years of a bear market, what do consumers cry in? They cry in their beer," said Juli Niemann, a portfolio manager at RT Jones Capital Equities in St. Louis.

She said the company leads the industry "for one very good reason: They're so unbelievably focused."

Anheuser-Busch's stock rose 7 percent during 2002--while the Dow Jones industrial average sank roughly 17 percent and had its worst yearly decline in a quarter century.

According to Niemann, its more than 40 brands-- including bestsellers Budweiser and Bud Light-- helped insulate the company from a choppy economy. "They're one huge market monolith," she said.

It also is quick to move into markets for specialty beers, non-alcohol brews and the trendy "malternatives."

"They come up with something very hot, drop it and move onto the next thing before it gets stale," said Benj Steinman, editor of Beer Marketer's Insights.

Anheuser-Busch, which turned 150 in 2002, has held on to its solid reputation even after president and CEO August Busch III turned the company over to Patrick Stokes last July. For the first time in 142 years, someone other than a Busch or Anheuser family member was in day-to-day control, although Busch III remains chairman.

Many credit Busch for the beermaker's great success. As the fourth generation of his family to have led the company, he turned Anheuser-Busch into a behemoth now holding roughly half the U.S. market In his 27 years as CEO, the company's market share doubled.

It is also a big seller around the world, marketing beer in more than 80 countries. A-B licenses Budweiser production in Canada and three other continents and has a 50 percent stake in Mexico's largest brewer.

The company is upbeat about 2003, projecting 12 percent sales growth as beer industry volume is driven more by demographics than the economy. And given growth in the number of beer drinkers ages 21 to 27, AnheuserBusch expects volume to increase 1 percent to 1.5 percent annually through the decade.

Helping propel the company has been marketing that many called ingenious and catchy, making household names and commercial stars of Spuds McKenzie, croaking frogs and dudes asking, "Whasssssup?"
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Title Annotation:Anheuser-Busch
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 20, 2003
Previous Article:Anheuser-Busch posts record volume in '02.
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