AB InBev cuts dividend in half to save more than $1 billion

Anheuser-Busch InBev halved its proposed dividend, which will save about $1.1 billion as the coronavirus pandemic has shut bars and and cut beer drinking.

The final dividend payment will be 50 cents a share, AB InBev said Tuesday as it postponed its annual meeting with shareholders by two months to June 3. The shares rose as much as 3.4{e93887a69cdd95d753f466db084bbc3aa0067124675315461d28d68a72842cc2} as European stocks gained.

European and North American companies have canceled more than $50 billion of dividends as the fallout of lockdowns and social-distancing measures hits investors. Monday, French advertising company Publicis Groupe SA slashed its dividend in half. The world’s top brewers, including Heineken and Carlsberg, have withdrawn their earnings outlook for 2020 as countries shut bars and restaurants, restricting beer sales to supermarkets and liquor stores.

Shares of AB InBev, once one of Europe’s top companies by market value, have dropped by about two-thirds since peaking in 2015. The maker of Budweiser and Stella Artois has been struggling with sluggish demand and its $96 billion debt load largely accumulated through the 2016 takeover of SABMiller.

Deleveraging will be one of the major challenges for Fernando Tennenbaum, who has been picked to replace Chief Financial Officer Felipe Dutra at the end of this month.

Net debt stood at four times earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization at the end of December. AB InBev has set a target to reduce that ratio to two times.

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