Costly Beer and Cars? Consumers, and Profits, Fine With That

Consumers seem undaunted by higher prices of everything from luxury cars to beer, letting companies like Anheuser-Busch InBev NV and BMW AG boost profits despite economic threats ranging from inflation to war to China’s Covid flare-up.

AB InBev, the world’s largest brewer, on Thursday reported profit growth that was almost twice as much as analysts expected. BMW AG’s first-quarter earnings rose 12% on strong demand for luxury cars. Revenue at Stellantis NV, formed by the merger of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot, jumped on the back of strong demand for new high-end models like the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

With costs of many raw materials flaring amid bottlenecks, companies have been testing how much they can raise prices after years of subdued inflation. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated shortages, cutting off supplies of some auto parts and cooking oils, while China’s continuing Covid-zero policy has crimped demand and added to supply-chain woes.

Nestle SA increased prices at the fastest rate in more than a decade during the first quarter, lifting the cost for everything from Nespresso capsules to Purina dog chow to blunt the impact of surging food inflation on its profitability. Procter & Gamble Co. and Danone SA also started the year with price increases of about 5%.

Like Budweiser owner AB InBev, brewers Heineken NV and Carlsberg A/S have delivered sales growth ahead of analyst estimates, largely driven by price increases. So far, drinkers returning to bars after lockdowns have been undeterred by having to pay more, with costs of brewers’ raw materials such as aluminum and barley soaring.

“Inflation continues to move very fast and is moving above or faster than what the expectation was,” AB InBev Chief Executive Officer Michel Doukeris said by phone. It’s “a little too early” to gauge how resilient demand for beer will be, given most of the brewer’s price increases were implemented late last year, he said.