It’s time to step to the sidelines on Anheuser-Busch InBev as it deals with a “Bud Light crisis,” according to HSBC.
Analyst Carlos Laboy downgraded the beverage stock to hold, saying there are “deeper problems than ABI admits” after a recent social media partnership in April between the Bud Light brand and Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender influencer, resulted in a wave of backlash that included boycotts of the beer. Meanwhile, the marketing executive responsible for the partnership is reportedly taking a leave of absence.
“Is ABI’s leadership getting the brand culture transformation right? It’s mixed,” Laboy wrote in a Wednesday note. “At Ambev, we think the answer is ‘yes;’ in the US, we think it’s ‘no.’ The way this Bud Light crisis came about a month ago, management’s response to it and the loss of unprecedented volume and brand relevance raises many questions.”
Anheuser-Busch InBev reported a spike in profit for the first quarter, but the analyst cited a Beer Marketer’s Insights note that showed a steep drop in beer sales — of maybe more than 25% — in April.
The Budweiser parent company, which also owns the brands Corona and Stella Artois, is up more than 5.7% this year. However, it’s down by more than 4.8% this quarter. Shares are down 1.3% in Wednesday premarket trading.
“Why did its US leadership underestimate the risk of pushback given the recent experience of other firms? Is A-B hiring the best people to grow the brands and gauge risk?” Laboy wrote. “If Budweiser and Bud Light are iconic American ideas that have long brought consumers together, why did these marketers fail to invite new consumers without alienating the core base of the firm’s largest brand?”
However, the analyst pointed out that some strength abroad is helping the stock.
Anheuser-Busch InBev did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
CNBC’s Michael Bloom contributed to this report.