Asahi Breweries Ltd. said Friday its group pretax profit for the business year to Dec. 31 fell 5.1 percent from the previous year to 57.55 billion yen due to weak sales.

In its consolidated earnings report, the brewer says sales fell 4.1 percent to 1.37 trillion yen amid the prolonged economic slump, which dampened combined sales of beer and “happoshu.”

But on the bottom line, the company posted a net profit of 14.75 billion yen, up 8.4 percent, after extraordinary losses declined due to accounting technicalities connected to retirement allowances.

For the current business year, Asahi Breweries forecasts a net profit of 26 billion yen and a pretax profit of 67 billion yen on sales of 1.46 trillion yen.

The company said it will buy back as many as 50 million shares of its own stock, worth up to 50 billion yen, although it did not say when.

Sapporo profit falls 73%

Sapporo Breweries Ltd., Japan’s third-largest brewery, said Friday its group net profit for the business year that ended Dec. 31 plunged 73 percent to 1.17 billion yen, battered by declining beer sales and fierce price competition for its low-malt cousin, “happoshu.”.

The consolidated operating profit was down 44.5 percent to 10.98 billion yen, and group sales slid 8.2 percent to 511.75 billion yen.

The brewery, which markets Yebisu and Sapporo Black Label beers, said disappointing beer sales pulled down group operating profit by 10.3 billion yen from the previous year.

Discounts on happoshu carried out in June cut into the company’s operating revenues by 6 billion yen, it said. In June, Japan’s major breweries cut the price of their flagship happoshu products to 135 yen, down 10 yen.

For the 2003 business year, the firm forecasts a 6.1 billion yen group net profit and 525 billion yen in sales. It expects to post a group net loss of 8.4 billion yen for the first half of the year.

The brewery said it will shift to a holding-company structure July 1 to speed decision-making and facilitate future strategic business alliances with other firms.

It will set up a new holding company, Sapporo Holdings Ltd., which will control subsidiaries engaged in the liquor, nonalcoholic beverage, restaurant and real estate industries.

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