Should I Buy SABMiller?


LONDON -- It's time to go shopping for shares again, but where to start? There are loads of great stocks to choose from, and I've got my wallet out. So here's the question I'm asking right now. Should I buy SABMiller ?

Winter warmer
Investors in brewing giant SABMiller have had plenty to celebrate lately, with the share price rising 12% over the winter. And rightly so, people always like a drink at Christmas. So does it still look a juicy prospect in dry January? And if so, should I buy it?

Think globally, drink locally
Beer is a global drink, and, with more than 200 beer brands and 70,000 employees in more than 75 countries, SABMiller is a truly global business. Its best-known brands include Peroni, Grolsch,Miller, Pilsner Urquell, and Fosters, which it swallowed in 2011 for a cool 7.5 billion pounds. That makes it the world's second biggest brewer, after Anheuser-Busch InBev. SABMiller also has a growing soft-drink business and is one of the world's largest bottlers of Coca-Cola products. A microbrewery, it ain't.

Lager than life
SABMiller's half-year results, published last November, went down nicely with the stock market. Subsidiary Miller Brands U.K. defied the wet summer and struggling domestic beer market to post sales growth of 5%. There was a time when British drinkers could only buy Peroni in pizza chains and Pilsner Urquell in upmarket off-license shops, but suddenly, they're everywhere. That's tribute to the power of this FTSE 100 company's potent marketing. And if your local boozer is suddenly stocking Czech pilsner Kozel, another brand getting a big push in the U.K., now you know why.

SABMiller's global business also had plenty of fizz, with larger volumes up 4%, currency group revenue up 8%, and reported group revenue up 11%. Adjusted earnings per share and free cash flow both rose 14%. It also reported success in integrating Fosters and that standardizing back-office functions and integrating front-office systems are moving apace.

SABMiller's tastiest prospects lie in emerging markets such as China, Latin America, and Africa, where newly wealthy consumers are blending their traditional taste for spirits with a growing thirst for beer. Some analysts claim the Africa brewing industry could one day outstrip the U.S. and Europe, and SABMiller is well placed to cash in, having opened a multimillion-pound brewery in Nigeria last year. On the downside, sales in China, where it owns the biggest beer, Snow, slowed slightly and there was some slippage in Latin America. In Europe sales fell 10%, which leaves a bitter taste.

Premium stock
I like a nice, warm pint of British real ale, but SABMiller doesn't operate in that market. The craft microbrewing revolution is gathering pace globally, but I can't see it denting SABMiller, which has worked hard to build a portfolio of strong, local brands through alliances, mergers, and acquisitions. A bad harvest could put pressure on margins, by pushing up commodity costs, but this is an impressive operation. So why haven't I bought it already? Well, five years of steady growth have left it trading on a price-to-earnings ratio of 20, and a dividend yield of just 1.9%. That's a bit pricey, but many investors will be happy to pay a little extra for this premium-strength company.

Lite years ahead
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Harvey Jones has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Coca-Cola. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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