Rising incomes and young populations are boosting beer sales in much of developing Asia
Figuring out where an economy's going to go can be tricky. You could look at GDP growth trends, home sales, company earnings forecasts -- and still have only a vague idea. But there's another gauge that is perhaps a more accurate indicator: beer sales.
Beer sales in much of the developed world including the U.S. and Western Europe have lost their froth in recent years. They've also been falling flat for more than a decade in Japan, and are at a more than 60-year low in Australia as aging consumers turn to whisky and wine. In contrast, the suds are surging in many developing Asian nations on rising incomes, younger populations and improving distribution.
Chinese brands already make up four of the top 10 beers in the world by volume share, with Snow -- made by a joint venture of SAB Miller and China Resources Enterprise -- and Tsingtao ahead of the ubiquitous Bud Light. You will also find two Brazilian brands on that list.
Even once-reclusive Myanmar is on tap. The good news for brewers is that despite -- or perhaps because of -- an economic slowdown, the Chinese are forecast by BMI Research to be knocking back the beers even as they cut back on more pricey tipples.
"The alcohol sector tends to be more vulnerable to economic cycles than food staples, as alcoholic drinks are considered as less essential," said Raphaele Auberty, food and drink analyst at BMI Research. "Nonetheless, the alcohol sector remains relatively insulated compared to more discretionary or premium sectors."
But there are caveats. Rising taxes, increasing restrictions and the slow pace of development may prove a challenge in some markets: in the Philippines, one of the fastest growing economies, there's a "sin tax" on liquor and tobacco products, and its high level of income inequality and raggedy retail sector may hurt consumption, according to Auberty.
There are additional risks in countries with large Muslim populations such as Indonesia and Malaysia. Indonesia, which has the world's biggest Muslim population, earlier this year imposed a ban on beer sales in convenience stores and other independent retail outlets, and there is a risk of increased regulation, according to BMI Research.
The World Bank forecasts Indonesia may grow 5.2 percent this year, with Malaysia expanding 4.8 percent. That's a slower pace than Vietnam, the champion guzzler in the region, according to BMI Research.
In the country where street-side bars sell bia hoi or "fresh" beer, for as little as 50 U.S. cents a glass, consumption is seen boosted by rising disposable income, a young population and a strong beer culture. Its economy? Forecast to expand 6 percent this year, among the fastest in Southeast Asia.