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E-Malt.com News article: 4251

Japan: Kirin Brewery Co., Japan's second-biggest beer maker, posted a record profit for 2004 on Friday and forecast further growth this year thanks to solid performances at its soft drink unit and overseas affiliates. Kirin said its 2004 group net profit totalled 49.1 billion yen ($465.3 million), up 52 percent from the previous year and the highest since it started reporting consolidated earnings in 1999. Sales came to 1.65 trillion yen, up 3.6 percent from 2003.

It forecast a net profit of 50 billion yen on sales of 1.7 trillion yen for the current year to December, hoping for healthy earnings from a low-priced, beer-like drink that it plans to introduce in April.

Nine analysts polled by Reuters Estimates produced a consensus 2004 profit forecast of 45 billion yen, and a projection of 46.15 billion yen for 2005.

Kirin said strong earnings at soft drinks arm Kirin Beverage Corp. , whose 2004 results are due at 0600 GMT, and its pharmaceutical division helped offset sluggish beer sales at home.

Overseas affiliates such as Australia's Lion Nathan and the Philippines' San Miguel Corp. also helped Kirin, which has faced tough competition in Japan from rivals' new beer-flavoured drinks.

Third-ranked Sapporo Holdings Ltd. introduced "Draft One" in February last year, followed by unlisted Suntory Ltd.'s "Super Blue" in June, drawing instant popularity and creating a stir in the beer industry due mainly to low pricing.

Hoping to snatch part of a growing market, Kirin will release its new product, "Nodogoshi", ahead of another "third-type" beer debut also in April by top Japanese beer maker Asahi Breweries Ltd. .

With the new drink, Kirin sees its sales of beer-related products -- beer, low-malt "happoshu" and beverages in the new category -- increasing by 2.1 percent in 2005 as "Nodogoshi" helps to compensate for sluggish sales of the rest.

Shares in Kirin Brewery increased over 10 percent in 2004, outperforming the Nikkei average's 7.6 percent rise. Shortly after the announcement, they were trading up 2.1 percent at 1,046 yen. The Nikkei was up 0.63 percent. ($1=105.52 yen)

19 February, 2005

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