Sale of stake in Harbin Brewery gives world's No3 beermaker US$96m gain SABMiller, the world's third-largest brewer by sales volume, is cashed up for re-expansion in China after booking a US$96 million exceptional gain from the disposal of its 29 per cent stake in Harbin Brewery Group. The involuntary disposal was triggered in June by Anheuser-Busch's successful takeover bid for Harbin Brewery. Not including the gain, the pre-tax profits of SABMiller's Asia and Africa operations increased 34 per cent to US$179 million. SABMiller still holds a minority 49 per cent stake in China Resources Snow Breweries (CRSB), a joint venture controlled by China Resources Enterprises. SABMiller said CSRB's operations posted 23 per cent growth in first-half output, principally through acquisitions of smaller breweries. According to Andre Parker, SABMiller's managing director for Africa and Asia, CSRB saw 10 per cent growth in first-half earnings. 'The growth was also due to efforts to promote Snow beer as a national brand, and partly helped by the lower comparison base of the same period last year which was affected by Sars,' Mr Parker said, adding that sales of Snow brand beer had increased 30 per cent and now commanded a 4 per cent market share. Globally, SABMiller booked a 38 per cent gain in net profit to US$583 million for the six months to September. Over the same period, year-on-year turnover increased by 14 per cent to US$7.17 billion. Over the past year CRSB has added 15.8 million hectolitres of annual production capacity through acquisitions in Zhejiang, Anhui and Jiangsu provinces and also through the construction of a new brewery in Guangdong. CRSB now runs 35 breweries with a total annual production capacity of about 56.5 million hectolitres. Mr Parker said a combination of macro-economic measures introduced to cool the mainland's economy this year and rising raw material costs had added pressure on small Chinese brewers, generating more acquisition opportunities for larger players such as CRSB. 'Local governments have stopped supporting small and uneconomic brewers, while the stronger regional brewers invite investment from stronger domestic and foreign rivals,' Mr Parker said. 'But we will acquire breweries only when the price is right.' Mr Parker declined to comment on speculation that SABMiller was interested in purchasing an equity stake in Ginsber Beer, a major brewer in northeastern China. Meanwhile, SABMiller will introduce its premium Miller Genuine Draft beer in Hong Kong and selected mainland cities next summer.