* Sees organic revenue growth in 2014 after 0.1 pct rise in 2013
* 2013 net profit down 2.0 pct at 1.59 bln as expected
* African improvement in Q4
* Shares up 3 pct, among strongest among European blue chips (Adds shares, margin, cost savings, CEO on Nigeria, Mexico)
By Philip Blenkinsop
BRUSSELS, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Heineken, the world’s third-largest brewer, forecast a return to revenue growth this year with higher beer sales in Africa, Asia and Latin America after a slowdown in several emerging markets in 2013.
The Dutch maker of Europe’s top-selling Heineken lager as well as Sol, tequila-flavoured Desperados and Strongbow cider said on Wednesday 2013 had been challenging with difficulties in eastern Europe, Latin America and Africa.
The brewer said revenue grew by just 0.1 percent last year as price rises failed to offset a sharp decline in overall volumes. For 2014, Heineken said revenue should grow on a like-for-like basis and excluding currency translation effects.
Growth and cost cuts should help its operating margin improve, it said. Heineken expects its latest three-year savings plan, TCM2, to hit its 625 million euro ($855 million) target this year.
Heineken shares were among the strongest performers in the FTSEurofirst 300 index of leading European stock, rising as much as 3.2 percent to 48.615 euros, the highest level in almost four weeks.
The STOXX European food and beverage index was up 0.3 percent.
“There was no growth last year, so some growth in the next is better. I’d describe it as mildly optimistic after what has been a very weak year in 2013,” said Trevor Stirling, beverage analyst at Bernstein Research.
“The big drag came from central and eastern Europe and the Americas and Africa didn’t deliver the level of organic growth they would have expected.”
Europe’s largest beer seller has a greater share of the sluggish western European market than rivals, but has boosted its emerging market presence by expansion into Mexico in 2010 and the buy-out of its joint venture partner in Asia in 2012.
Heineken warned in October that it expected net profit before one-offs to fall by a low single digit percentage last year. In fact, it fell by 2.0 percent on a like-for-like basis to 1.59 billion euros.
That was exactly in line with the average expectation in a Reuters poll.
Heineken said volumes had improved in western Europe, in Africa and the Middle East in the second half, with a pick-up in large markets of Nigeria, Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the fourth quarter.
“We had a very good last quarter in Nigeria. It is true that you see some changes in the market. You see an increasing value segment, in which we participate ourselves, but a brand like Heineken also continues to grow,” Chief Executive Jean-Francois Van Boxmeer told a conference call.
He added he was slightly more optimistic about Nigeria, with elections due next year. Elections typically prompt economic stimulus and so more spending on beer.
In Mexico, where economic reforms have been pushed through, Van Boxmeer saw some early signs of growth. The country became only the second in Latin America to earn a “A” grade sovereign rating from Moody’s this month.
Diageo, the world’s largest spirits maker, suffered lower demand in China and some other emerging markets due to tax hikes, discounting rivals and a Chinese government crackdown on gift-giving.
It also said Nigerian consumers opted for cheaper beers after higher inflation hit disposable income.
World number two brewer, SABMiller said last month that depreciation of key currencies against the U.S. dollar had hurt its results.
Heineken said currencies were likely to hit revenues and profit this year. Based on Monday’s spot rates, the impact on operating profit would be 115 million euros and on net profit 75 million euros.
World number four Carlsberg reports next Wednesday and global market leader AB InBev one week later. ($1 = 0.7312 euros) (Reporting By Philip Blenkinsop; editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek and Elizabeth Piper)