(Adds CEO comment, detail on Chinese and W.European sales)
COPENHAGEN, April 28 (Reuters) - A rebound in Chinese beer sales in the first quarter helped Carlsberg to beat analyst expectations, even as lockdowns depressed markets in Western Europe, the Danish brewer said on Wednesday.
The world’s third-biggest brewer, after Heineken and Anheuser Busch Inbev, said volumes sold in China increased by more than 50% compared with the first three months of last year and by 20% from the same period in 2019.
“This is more than just an easy comparison to last year,” Chief Executive Cees ‘t Hart said at a conference call referring to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus that locked down China early last year.
“It shows that we are more than back on track in China and that we have regained our momentum,” he said.
Volumes declined by 6% in the more profitable Western European market, although the company had a “relatively good start to April” and saw “good progress” in Britain, where pubs reopened this month, Hart said.
Total sales between January and March stood at 13.0 billion Danish crowns ($2.11 billion), compared with 12.8 billion estimated by analysts in a poll gathered by the company.
The situation is similar to that of rival Heineken , which last week beat expectations as beer sales in Africa and Asia increased, but were offset by a sharp decline in Europe.
The positive start to the year led Carlsberg to increase minimum expectations for profit growth for this year. It expects operating profit to grow between 5% and 10%, compared with its previous guidance of 3% to 10% growth.
The brewer has also launched a share buy-back programme, aiming to purchase shares worth 1 billion crowns until August 13.
Carlsberg’s shares traded 0.5% higher at 0748 GMT, near an all-time high reached last week, and are up 10% since the start of the year. ($1 = 6.1596 Danish crowns) (Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Keith Weir and Barbara Lewis)