Analysts: Miller Brewing Sale Imminent

Wednesday, April 17th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MILWAUKEE (AP) _ Beer industry analysts say Philip Morris Cos. may soon announce a sale of Miller Brewing Co.

Some analysts say the announcement could come as early as Wednesday, when Philip Morris was scheduled to release first-quarter earnings.

``It would be a natural time to announce it,'' said David Kathman, a food and beverage analyst with Chicago-based Morningstar Inc.

New York-based Philip Morris confirmed several weeks ago it was negotiating a sale with South African Breweries Ltd., brewer of Pilsner Urquell beer and a strong player in emerging markets.

Incoming Philip Morris CEO Louis Camilleri said during the company's January earnings announcement the company would consider selling Miller Brewing. Spokesmen for both companies declined to comment about whether he would announce a sale Wednesday.

Analysts say a sale would benefit Miller Brewing, the nation's second-largest brewer behind Anheuser-Busch Cos.

``The Miller labels have to do a fast turnaround or they clearly will slide too deep to be resurrected,'' said Mark Rodman, who owns Beverage Distribution Consultants of Swampscott, Mass.

Camilleri told industry analysts last fall the tobacco-food giant's beer business has continued to face challenges. Profits have dropped as sales declined and advertising costs increased.

South African Breweries would give Miller a parent company more focused on beer, Kathman said.

Miller Brewing started in 1855 in Milwaukee, a city known for its beer-making history. Analysts doubt a sale to South African Breweries would affect the city whose baseball team plays in Miller Park.

South African Breweries is the world's fourth-largest brewer by volume, after St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch, Belgium's Interbrew and Heineken NV of the Netherlands, according to 2000 data compiled by British beverage consultant Canadean. Miller ranks sixth worldwide.