* Volumes down 1.2 percent, decline of 6 pct in U.S.
* Revenue per litre up by 7.5 pct on price hikes, premium beer
* Q1 core profit (EBITDA) $3.97 bln vs consensus $3.93 bln (Adds more on Brazil, China, shares)
By Philip Blenkinsop
BRUSSELS, May 6 (Reuters) - Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer, increased first quarter profit by more than expected as it lifted prices and sold more premium lagers in Brazil and China, making up for sharply lower U.S. shipments.
Overall volumes declined by 1.2 percent, principally due to a 6 percent fall in sales to U.S. wholesalers, which had last year built inventories ahead of union negotiations.
However, the company sold more of its higher priced global brands. Volumes of Budweiser, which are now greater outside than inside the United States, rose by 6.2 percent, with particularly strong growth in Brazil and China.
AB InBev shares, which had dropped more than 10 percent since mid-April as the euro rallied, were up 2.8 percent at 107.70 euros at 0900 GMT, making them among the strongest in the FTSEurofirst 300 index of leading European stocks.
“Most of the beat is due to very strong pricing in Brazil,” said Bernstein Research beverage analyst Trevor Stirling, adding the company had also gained in Brazil from incentives to invest, such as building new breweries.
By focusing more on premium beers, AB InBev has been able to defy the slowdown in major emerging markets.
In Brazil, AB InBev’s and the world’s second largest beer market in terms of profit, beer sales were largely unchanged, but the company managed to increase revenue per hectolitre by 11 percent.
Chief Financial Officer Felipe Dutra said inflation accounted for some 8 percent, with the rest coming from a consumer shift to the likes of Budweiser and recently launched Corona and Skol Beats Senses.
AB InBev expects to grow revenues in Brazil by a mid- to high single digit percentage over 2015, with help from premium beers. However, it sees little scope to increase volumes a year on from Brazil’s hosting of the soccer World Cup.
In China, AB InBev sold more beer despite a weaker market. Its focus on premium beers, where it has more than half of the market, resulted in a 10 percent increase in revenue per hectolitre. Inflation there is below 2 percent.
First-quarter core profit (EBITDA) rose by 11 percent on a like-for-like basis to $3.97 billion. That compared with the $3.93 billion average forecast in a Reuters poll of analysts.
The brewer of Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois said it expected industry volumes in the United States to improve this year compared with last and for growth in Mexico to continue. (Reporting By Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Keith Weir)