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Brazilian beer giant, Companhia de Bebidas das America , also known as AmBev, reported robust fourth-quarter 2012 normalized earnings of R$1.19 per share, substantially beating the prior-year quarter’s earnings of R$0.98 a share by 22.2%. The results were primarily driven by solid top-line performance, improved margins and lower tax rate.

In the U.S. dollar terms, earnings came at 58 cents per share, surpassing the Zacks Consensus Estimate of 35 cents per share.

For the full year, this Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) company reported normalized earnings per share of R$3.38, up 22.1% from R$2.76 earned in 2011. In U.S. dollar terms, earnings were $1.73 per share, above the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $1.69.

Reported net sales increased 21.0% to R$10.13 billion compared with R$8.38 billion in the prior-year quarter. The increase in revenues was primarily attributable to a 3.2% rise in volumes across all regions. On an organic basis, total revenue jumped 13.7% from prior-year quarter, on account of a 1.7% increase in overall organic volumes.

Net sales for full year 2012 jumped 18.8% to R$32.23 billion from R$27.13 billion reported in 2011. Overall, company volumes rose 2.9% for the year. On an organic basis, net sales witnessed a 12.4% increase while volumes grew 2.0%.

Quarter in Detail

In spite of a 20.5% increase in cost of goods sold, gross profit escalated 21.2% to R$7.077 billion compared with R$5.841 billion in the year-ago quarter. Gross profit margin expanded 10 basis points (bps) to 69.8%.

Selling, marketing and administrative expenses (SG&A), excluding depreciation and amortization, increased 16.3% year over year to R$2.21 billion as the company witnessed labor related inflationary pressures on distribution expenses in Argentina and Brazil. This was partially offset by lower administrative expenses in Brazil as well as lower commercial spending in Canada.

During the quarter, AmBev's normalized EBITDA climbed 22.3% year over year to R$5.511 billion, while normalized EBITDA margin expanded 60 basis points to 54.4%.

Financials

AmBev ended the year with cash and cash equivalents of R$8.926 billion and shareholders’ equity of R$29.923 billion. During the quarter, the company generated R$5.455 billion of cash from its operating activities, while full year cash generation amounted to R$15.758 billion.

During the quarter, the company spent R$1.054 billion toward capital expenditure, bringing the full year capital spending to R$3.014 billion. Of the full year’s capital spend, about R$2.141 billion was invested in Brazil. Moreover, the company paid a dividend and IOC of R$1.7 billion to its shareholders in October.

Besides AmBev, other beverage-alcohol companies that posted robust earnings results in the recently reported quarters are Constellation Brands Inc. (STZ), Brown-Forman Corporation (BF.B - Analyst Report) and Beam Inc. .

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