LONDON (Reuters) - Brewer SABMiller Plc SAB.L complained of tough trading in Europe and North America and warned that conditions would stay difficult in the short term as hard-pressed consumers in mature markets economize on their favorite tipples.
The world's No 2 brewer and maker of Miller Lite, Peroni and Grolsch narrowly missed forecasts with an 11 percent rise in half-year earnings, helped by its strong presence in emerging markets where rising sales are offsetting weakness elsewhere.
Chief Executive Graham Mackay warned that faltering economies and shaky consumer confidence were hitting beer drinking in Europe and the United States, where consumers are facing high unemployment and poor economic growth prospects.
"It's a two-speed situation and thank the Lord for that, with emerging markets powering ahead, while we do not see Europe and the U.S. staying in the doldrums for ever," he told a half-year results briefing on Thursday.
The company earns over 80 percent of its profit from fast- growing emerging markets, but earnings fell in both Europe and North America as the group suffered flat volumes in the former and sold less beer in the later.
Mackay added that the problem in the United States is one of unemployment, but there were signs of drinkers moving to premium-price beers, while the crisis in Europe -- where the group operates largely in the east rather than the euro zone -- was one of bank debt and lack of consumer confidence.
While these two areas are expected to stay difficult in the short term, Mackay saw favorable conditions elsewhere, particularly in Latin America and Africa where he announced a $555 million investment in four African nations and Peru.
The London-based company reported adjusted earnings per share of 103.3 U.S. cents for its half-year through September, below the forecast 103.9 cents from a company-compiled consensus and a ThomsonReuters I/B/E/S forecast of 103.5 cents.
It said it would raise its half-year dividend 10 percent to 21.5 cents.
SABMiller shares were off 0.8 percent at 2,214 pence by 0910 GMT, largely in line the London stock market.
"We are cautious about SAB because we worry about margins in 2012-2013, driven by rising input costs, weak volumes in Europe, North America and South Africa and a highly competitive price situation in Europe," said analyst Adam Spielman at Citi.
The brewer reported that operating or EBITA margins slipped to 17.2 percent from 17.3 percent as input costs rose and it had to spend more to get growth. Mackay said he saw flat margins in the group's second half to March 2012.
He added that raw material costs were expected to rise at a slightly faster rate in its second half and into next year, but the group continued to expect a low single-digit percentage rise in its year to March 2012.
The brewer has been active on the deal front, agreeing to buy Australia's Foster's in September for $10.2 billion and the following month swapping its Russia and Ukraine business for a 24 percent stake in Turkey's Anadolu Efes (AEFES.IS).
Group revenue rose 10 percent to $15.7 billion in the half year and operating profit or EBITA was up 10 percent to $2.7 billion, while underlying beer volumes rose 3 percent.
Other brewers have seen mixed fortunes, with world No. 1 Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI.BR) gaining from a buoyant Brazil, while Europe-focused Heineken (HEIN.AS) and Carlsberg (CARLb.CO) have suffered from tough trading.
SABMiller shares have performed in line with AB InBev but have outpaced Heineken and Carlsberg since the start of the year. The group's strong emerging market exposure puts it on a premium trading at 14.2 times 2012 forecast earnings compared to AB InBev on 13.6, Heineken on 11.9 and Carlsberg of 10.1.
Editing by David Holmes