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The Booze Is Flowing in China

Stocks in this article: BUDTAP

Foreign beer brands are a drop in the barrel compared to China's own Tsingtao (0168.HK) and regional brews such as Yanjing (000729.SZ). Tsingtao share prices on the Hong Kong stock exchange are bouncing around near a five-year high, though on a dip at the moment (hint, hint). Yanjing shares are down sharply from peaks in early 2008 and mid-2010.

But popular foreign-brand beers sell widely in urban supermarkets and upscale bars. Among the easiest to find are the Danish beer Carlsberg (CARLS-B.CO) and its Dutch rival Heineken (HEIA.AS). Both are trading on comfortably in Europe at pre-global financial crisis levels.

U.S. brewing giant Anheuser-Busch InBev and fellow American macro-brewer Molson Coors are also on the move.

Asia was Anheuser-Busch InBev's top market by volume in the first half of 2012, up 5.7% and led by China at 5.9%, no surprise given how easy it is to find a Budweiser in Beijing. Global volume went up just 0.8%. The brewer's first-half financial report forecasts a market-share gain in the first five months of the year. Its share prices reached a five-year high on Sept. 4.

Molson Coors entered China in 2003 and reports growing Coors Light sales. Two years ago it announced a joint venture with China-based Hebei Si'hai Beer Co. and a 51% controlling interest in the venture, still noteworthy for any Sino-foreign tie-up in China.

The venture opens valuable local sales and distribution doors for new brands under a joint label. Molson Coors share prices are oddly volatile for a beer brand but holding for the moment near a five-year average.

Imported grape wines of special note are Jacobs Creek of Australia, South Africa-based Penfolds and Chile's Santa Rita. Stock traders can't tap into most of these wineries as they're privately held.

But classy, top-brassy Chinese drinkers, guys like the foreign affairs office rep, are sticking hard to indigenous booze. Government military officials have particularly keen tastes for the high-end Chinese spirits, among other luxuries.

For that reason, shares of top brands such as Kweichow Maotai (600519.SS) and China Jiugui Liquor (000799.SZ) are considered more than safe unless the country's elite suddenly gets too poor to afford them, an unlikely scenario no matter what they say about a slowdown in the country's economic growth.

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