Sri Lankan beer makers to regain market share with tax changes- Fitch

Sri Lanka’s beer industry will regain market share from hard liquor following a more favorable tax regime for the segment announced in the Sri Lankan government’s budget on 9 November, Fitch Ratings says.

However the global rating agency expects the ratings on Distilleries Company of Sri Lanka PLC (DIST, AAA(lka)/Rating Watch Negative), the largest hard liquor manufacturer, and Lion Brewery (Ceylon) PLC (Lion, A+(lka)/Negative Outlook), the leading beer maker, to remain steady.

The Sri Lankan government’s 2018 budget reduced excise taxes on strong beer by 33% and raised that on hard liquor by 2%, effective immediately. The budget also introduced a Nation Building tax of 2% on all alcoholic beverage sales, which will take effect from April 2018.

“With the latest tax revisions and barring further changes, we expect beer’s market share of total reported alcohol consumption in Sri Lanka, as calculated by Fitch, to increase to around 24%-25% in the medium term, posting an average volume growth of 22% over 2017-2019. We expect hard liquor sales volumes to contract 2% over this period, reversing some of the market share gains it made in the last few years. Hard liquor’s share rose to 84% in 2016 from 71% in 2014, after a series of tax increases for beer. The market share for beer fell to 14% from 27% over the same period.” Fitch Ratings said.

Lion accounts for over 80% of Sri Lanka’s beer sales, and the lower excise tax has led to a 23% drop in the price of its main strong beer product. This will make it competitively priced per unit of alcohol against hard liquor. Beer makers will also be helped by the removal of a tax on beer cans in the government budget. Fitch expects beer to regain market share lost to hard liquor during the last two years, when frequent tax increases on beer eroded its price advantage.

However, Fitch believes beer sales volumes are unlikely to recover fast enough in the next 12 to 18 months for Lion’s net leverage (as measured by net debt/operating EBITDAR) to reduce to less than 3.0x (6.3x at end-March 2017),

Taxes on alcohol makers are hefty with top-line taxes accounting for around 70% and 60% of gross company revenues for DIST and Lion, respectively, in the financial year ended 31 March 2017.

“We believe the government is unlikely to impose further taxes on the industry to the extent that alcoholic beverages become prohibitively expensive to the average consumer, because the alcohol excise taxes contributed 8% to government tax revenue in 2016. As such, we expect further tax increases to be gradual, especially for hard liquor.”

The budget also proposes to simplify the issuance and rate structure of liquor retail licenses, which threating agency believes will help sales, although further details are yet to be disclosed. Both Lion and DIST command leadership in their respective segments, given their entrenched brands which continue to benefit from a complete ban on advertising of alcoholic beverages.