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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Bill Gates bets on Bud Light’s resurgence

Cases of Bud Light beer are stacked for sale June 25 at Glen Miller’s Beer & Soda in Lemoyne, Pa.  (New York Times)

Bill Gates said in 2018 that he wasn’t “a big beer drinker.” But the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust recently revealed a large investment in beleaguered Bud Light maker Anheuser-Busch InBev (NYSE: BUD).

Here’s why that big bet could pay off.

Anheuser-Busch InBev has been punished by a boycott of Bud Light by some who see the company as supporting transgender people. For more than 20 years, Bud Light reigned as the top beer (by sales) in the U.S.

By June, the boycott caused it to slide into second place (behind another Anheuser-Busch InBev product, Modelo Especial). CEO Michel Doukeris acknowledged the lower numbers were due to the Bud Light boycott. But the negative impact of the boycott could be waning.

A recent Deutsche Bank survey found that the percentage of respondents who say they’re very unlikely to buy Bud Light plunged from 18% in July to 3% in August. Meanwhile, Doukeris says that consumers “want to enjoy their beer without a debate” and want Bud Light “to focus on beer” – and he’s heard them.

Overall, the company’s business remains solid. Even with the Bud Light boycott weighing on growth, Anheuser-Busch InBev’s revenue rose 7.2% year over year in the second quarter.

Its North American market share has also been stable since late April. Any uptick in customers returning to Bud Light should provide a boost to Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Ask the Fool

Q. What’s the overall best stock? – R.Y., Burley, Idaho

A. There’s no single perfect stock, as different kinds of stocks can be particularly well-suited to different investors’ needs.

If you’re in or nearing retirement, for example, you might reasonably seek out dividend-paying stocks, while those aiming to beat the market might focus on finding undervalued stocks or attractive growth stocks for their portfolios.

Risk-averse investors might favor established companies with dependable and growing revenue and earnings.

Remember that even if you identify what looks like a perfect stock, the unexpected could still happen.

Years ago, few would have ever expected to see Polaroid, Eastman Kodak, Toys R Us, Pan Am, General Motors, Chrysler, Woolworth’s, Texaco or Sports Authority file for bankruptcy or go out of business.

That’s why it’s important not to put too many eggs in one basket.

There is one single investment you might consider, though – a simple low-fee, broad-market index fund, such as one that tracks the S&P 500. It will immediately diversify your portfolio across many stocks.

Q. How can a company be “growing too fast to be profitable”? – C.D., Brookfield, Wisconsin

A. It might be that the company is in a rapid growth phase and is therefore spending every dollar of income, and possibly even taking on debt, to fuel its growth.

It might, for example, be spending a lot on hiring people, buying advertising or building more factories.

This could work out if, over time, it spends less than it brings in and turns profitable. It’s not a guaranteed strategy, but it has worked for the likes of and others.

My Smartest Investment

I’ve made a bunch of smart moves – such as taking Wall Street analyst ratings with a grain of salt.

For example, I bought into IBM decades ago, when analysts were against it, for around $42 per share and more than doubled my money.

They also didn’t like AT&T – but I bought anyway, at $36 per share, only to see analysts recommending the stock when it was around $60.

I like tried-and-true companies that have been around for the last 50 or more years and that pay me a dividend, no matter how small, that increases from year to year.

My early investments were mostly in blue-chip companies such as Abbott Laboratories, Anheuser-Busch, Bristol Myers Squibb, Coca-Cola, General Electric, McDonald’s, Medtronic and Procter & Gamble. – C.J.M., Boynton Beach, Florida

The Fool responds: First off, understand that there are “buy-side” analysts who work for big investment companies, recommending stocks to buy or sell; those internal reports generally stay within their companies.

There are also “sell-side” analysts, who work for broker-dealers and investment banks, and whose ratings and reports are what you’ll most likely run across.

It’s definitely smart not to pay too much attention to sell-side analyst opinions.

For one thing, those predictions are often wrong, though track records vary. Analysts can have conflicts of interest, too: They may be reluctant to issue poor ratings to companies because those companies may then not become customers of their employers.