Is Molson Coors the Real Winner in the Budweiser-Miller Merger?

By Markets Fool.com

Anheuser-Busch InBev (NYSE: BUD) completed its acquisition of SABMiller last month, giving the megabrewer even greater global reach, but the real winner from this merger will actually be Molson Coors (NYSE: TAP), which acquired the other half of MillerCoors it didn't already own. The one-time joint venture will now be the engine that fuels its new parent's frothy gains.

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There should be a lot to celebrate going forward, now that Molson Coors has fully acquired a portfolio of brands that will allow it to sell both north and south of the Canadian border. Image source: Coors Light.

Beer sales going flat

The tale of brewers quarterly earnings is telling, with Big Beer still facing less heady times.

  • Anheuser-Busch InBev reported falling sales, lower volumes, and plunging profits, the sixth consecutive quarter its earnings missed expectations. With Brazil, its second largest market, coming apart, it definitely needs the Miller acquisition to work out.
  • Molson Coors also suffered a hangover, with lower sales, volumes, and adjusted profits, though the latter came in ahead of Wall Street expectations. With even its flagship Coors Light brand getting hit, the brewer needs something to spice it up.
  • MillerCoors, though, in its last quarterly report before being consumed by Molson Coors, was able to notch marginally higher sales and wider profits. While not even it could buck industry trends, as both sales to retailers (STRs) and sales to wholesalers were down, it saw both the Miller Lite and Coors Light brands gain market share -- the former for the eighth consecutive quarter.
  • Conversely, the original Coors Banquet brand grew STRs, and it looks to be on track for a 10th straight year of growth.

While there were some notable failures in the quarter, such as Miller Genuine Draft's posting double-digit declines, the real beneficial changes will occur once Molson Coors integrates MillerCoors portfolio fully into its operations.

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A two-way street

The brewer is looking to see which brands it owns that would work well north of the border, as well as the ones it's fully acquired that could now move south and be sold in the United States.

The joint-venture agreement that created MillerCoors in 2007 mainly allowed it to distribute beer in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, while granting Molson permission to market and distribute certain Miller brands in Canada, primarily Miller Genuine Draft. A few years ago, that set-up created a period of recrimination between the two brewers when Miller charged Molson with not doing enough to promote its brands and wanting to withdraw from the agreement.

Molson Coors could be golden after fully acquiring the MillerCoors joint venture and planning to enlarge the markets its brands are sold in. Image source: Miller Genuine Draft.

The two eventually settled their differences mainly by agreeing to allow Miller to take over the sales of Miller products, including MGD, which had been part of Molson's Canadian portfolio. Now, though, all of that has been folded into Molson, and it plans to migrate brands in both directions over the border.

On the brewer's conference earnings conference call with analysts, CEO Mark Hunter said, "We're also assessing the opportunities for Miller High Life and other U.S. brands that we can lift and shift into the Canada market."

A global craft-beer market

He hinted at that strategy a couple of weeks ago in an interview withThe Canadian Press, when he said the brewer intends to introduce into Canada various mass-brewed and craft beers from the U.S. and Europe, such as Leinenkugel, Miller High Life, Sharp's, and Staropramen. At the same time, he saw the opportunity to bring some of Canada's craft beers, such as Creemore and Granville Island, south and introduce them into the burgeoning U.S. craft-beer market.

Not that the strategy doesn't carry some risks. While the U.S. craft-beer market is large and growing, it has been suffering of late from an explosion of choice. Industry growth slowed to just 6% earlier this year, down from 17%, and much of that was due to slack sales among the largest brands, including Boston Beer's Samuel Adams, New Belgium Brewing, and even Anheuser-Busch's Shock Top.

Image source: Getty Images.

Still, starting from zero gives Molson Coors a chance to nibble away at some of the market share held by the industry leaders, and imported beers have been one of the stronger segments of the overall beer market, suggesting that even if the beer is coming out of Canada, it still might gain. It also offers Canadian beer drinkers a wider selection of beers they haven't had access to before, which could help expand sales.

Anheuser-Busch InBev may have the global beer market to target, and its results mean it needs the megamerger to work out quickly. But Molson Coors now has the U.S. and Canadian markets to itself, and that could let it see frothy gains in its future.

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Rich Duprey has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Anheuser-Busch InBev NV and Boston Beer. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.