Anheuser-Busch hopes foreign imports help

Anheuser-Busch has released Harbin lager beer, its own Chinese import.

The first markets getting the brand are Los Angeles and Hawaii, with a gradual nationwide rollout scheduled for the remainder of the year. It's the second sole-U.S. distribution deal for a foreign beer announced by Anheuser-Busch. The first was Grolsch, a Dutch beer.

The U.S.'s biggest brewer is increasing its selection of imported beers to tap into the high-end market. Beer sales are flat overall, with imports and microbrews accounting for most of the industry's growth.

Anheuser-Busch did not give a specific earnings outlook for the year, but said it continues to expect earnings per share to increase from its "normalized" profit last year of $2.31 per share, which excludes one-time items but reflects stock-option expenses. Analysts, on average, are looking for earnings of US$2.37 per share for the year, according to a poll by Thomson Financial.

The company's fourth-quarter profit plunged 39.5 percent from a year ago, hurt by lackluster domestic beer sales. The company said its wholesalers' sales rose 2.9 percent through mid-February. It added that its international segment, notably in Mexico and China, is making "substantial contributions" to its earnings growth.

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