Anheuser-Busch Defends Conference-Call Policy

Article excerpt

Despite reporting a 13 percent gain in fourth-quarter earnings last Thursday, Anheuser-Busch Cos. fell 2 1/16 points to 67 3/4 and was trading at its lowest level in more than a year last week.

Anheuser-Busch, which dominates the U.S. beer market with a 47.5 percent share, seems to be suffering from a general investor aversion to beverage stocks.

The company didn't help its cause last week by keeping shareholders out of its conference call with analysts and institutional investors following the earnings release.

Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt has been calling for companies to open these conference calls to everyone, saying that closing the calls puts small investors at a disadvantage because they don't have the same access to information as large investors. A large number of public companies have responded by either opening their conference calls to anyone or broadcasting them over the Internet.

But Anheuser-Busch didn't think it was necessary.

"Several hours prior to the teleconference, Anheuser-Busch widely distributes to the news media a press release on our earnings announcement that contains a full disclosure of our financial results and all material information, including earnings guidance we give to analysts," the company said in a statement.

The analysts who are privy to the conference call information seem to be generally optimistic about the stock.

"We expect favorable industry price and volume trends to accrue a disproportionate benefit to Anheuser-Busch, based on continued market share gains," said a report last week by PaineWebber analyst Mark Greenberg, who reiterated his "buy" rating on the stock with a target price of $88 a share.

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