Oktoberfest fans may be gathering in Germany for a feast to forget the turmoil in world financial markets, but the traditionally defensive beer sector looks unlikely to offer investors a safe haven this time, analysts told CNBC.com.
Growth is concentrated in a few emerging markets and even those look uncertain as the effects of the brutal flight to safe assets that has become known as the credit crunch are still playing out.
"People go on drinking beer even in tough times. But when consumers are under pressure, they cut sales across the board," Andrew Holland, beverages analyst at Dresdner Kleinwort, told CNBC.com.
Global volumes growth will slow to 2 to 3 percent this year from 5 percent last.
Investors looking for long-term gains in beer stocks should look at geographically-diversified companies with high exposure to emerging markets and enough world clout, such as SAB Miller, InBev and Carlsberg, analysts said, adding that they should also keep an eye on evolutions in the main markets.
The U.S., where major banks have disappeared virtually overnight, is the world's biggest market for beer. But the top-end segment for imported beer, which is sold at a 50 percent premium over local beverages, has been performing badly even since last year.
"The sort of people who drink Heineken and Corona are the sort of people who worked at Lehman," Holland said, adding that there is also a switch in drinking habits, with more consumers turning to drinking beer at home rather than buying high-margin products in bars and restaurants.
Smoking Ban Hits Beer Sales
Western Europe, another traditional market for beer, does not bode well either, with sales lingering because of the combined effect of belt-tightening in the aftermath of the credit crunch and a smoking ban which entered into effect in many countries over the past few years.
"We're not going to get very much growth here," David Liston, senior beverages analyst at Barclays Wealth, said.