Soothing Thirsty Emerging Markets

09/25/2012 10:00 am EST

Focus: GLOBAL

Benjamin Shepherd

Analyst, Breakthrough Tech Profits, Global Income Edge and Personal Finance

If Budweiser is the King of Beers, this stock is El Rey de Cervezas in North, Central, and South America, and it's a great buy for the long haul as the consumer class grows in developing markets, writes Benjamin Shepherd of Investing Daily.

Regardless of your political affiliation, it’s an empirical fact that Americans were at their most prosperous under President Bill Clinton.

During his administration, median household income reached a historic peak of $45,932 in 1999, according to US Census Bureau data. Two presidents and 12 years later, that figure has fallen to $50,054.

While that might not seem like a huge slide for any one family, when spread across the estimated 114.8 million households in America, the figure amounts to a loss of almost $560 billion in annual income nationwide. That represents a lot of car and mortgage payments, diapers, shoes and potato chips and everything else that wasn’t purchased from businesses both large and small.

A host of factors are to blame for the decline in American prosperity, not the least of which is an unemployment rate that has stubbornly remained above 8%. Those who’ve found work are making about 17% less money in their new positions, according to data from the US Department of Labor.

But even as American incomes fall, indebtedness continues to sap spending power. In the average American household, almost 11% of income goes toward debt service, although that number is thankfully falling.

While Americans are getting poorer, the citizens of several emerging-market countries are getting richer. Over the past decade, average incomes have grown by about 9% annually in China and 6% in Brazil, with many developing countries falling somewhere in between.

Those rising incomes have helped push global consumer spending to about $6.9 trillion annually, a figure expected to reach $20 trillion by the end of this decade. American businesses have gotten wise to these statistics, and are increasingly looking to emerging markets for profits.

The iconic Yum! Brands (YUM), known for its fast-food restaurants, will soon open its 20th KFC franchise in Nigeria. Wal-Mart (WMT) is pushing deeper into Asia, and even Netflix (NFLX) is expanding its content delivery platform into South America.

Unfortunately for Americans, there’s no quick fix for declining prosperity. The country’s leaders must address the federal debt burden, more college students must finish degrees in hard sciences and engineering (many universities have graduation rates as low as 40%), and households must learn to live within their means.

In the meantime, Americans and other denizens of developed nations can claim a share of emerging-market incomes for their own, by purchasing the stock of companies such as Companhia de Bebidas das Americas (ABV), known more commonly in North America as AmBev.

The company is the largest brewer in Latin America and the fifth largest in the world. It is also the largest bottler of PepsiCo (PEP) products outside of the US.

AmBev commands more than 95% share in the beer markets in Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay, 76% market share in Argentina, almost 70% in Brazil, and more than 40% in Canada.

AmBev has benefited from premium beer sales, which have considerably more room to grow in Latin America than in the developed world. Premium beers offer much higher margins than less expensive fare, and account for only 5% of sales by volume in Brazil—up from just 2% three years ago—and make up an even lower percentage in other South American countries.

In the US, they make up approximately 15% of sales. In some European countries, premium beers account for almost half of all beer sales. Rising levels of discretionary income in emerging markets should help fuel continued growth in premium beer consumption.

Beer sales have struggled to grow in the US over the past few years, as cash-strapped consumers cut back on discretionary purchases and weight consciousness dampens beer drinking. While growth has been slow in Latin America, it has at least been positive. Beer sales rose by 2% in the region last year, largely fueled by rising incomes. While most breweries have experienced margin compression because of rising commodity costs, AmBev has been able to pass those higher costs onto consumers.

AmBev’s American depositary receipts offer attractive growth prospects and currently yield 3.7%, with a payout ratio of just 45%. Investors seeking outsized profits should raise a toast to AmBev and its increasingly thirsty clientele in emerging markets.

Read more from Investing Daily here...

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