October 25, 2018 / 6:05 AM / 9 months ago

UPDATE 1-AB InBev halves dividend as beer sales notch up

(Adds details on dividend, two key markets)

By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS, Oct 25 (Reuters) - Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest brewer, slashed its proposed dividend by half on Thursday as improved beer sales in Mexico, Europe and parts of Africa offset declines in its largest markets of the United States and Brazil.

The Belgium-based brewer of Budweiser, Stella Artois and Corona said it will pay a dividend of 1.80 euros per share for 2018, including a 0.80 euro interim amount, compared with 3.60 euros last year.

AB InBev, which paid about $100 billion to buy its nearest rival SABMiller in 2016, said it was accelerating debt reduction towards its target of a net debt to EBITDA ratio of two times.

The company said dividends would increase over time, but growth would be modest in the short term given the importance of deleveraging.

In the United States, AB InBev's key market, beer sales had declined, as did the brewer's market share. While revenues saw an increase this year, helped by price hikes and consumers' shift to higher-priced beers, core earnings dropped due to commodity costs.

In Brazil, the company's second-largest market, beer sales declined as disposable income barely rose and consumer sentiment fell. However, revenue and profit climbed due to a price hike and as marketing costs dipped after the soccer World Cup. (Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Sherry Jacob-Phillips)

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