The world's biggest beer company is in purgatory

Amy schumer seth rogan Bud light adYouTube

Anheuser-Busch InBev — the biggest brewer in the world and maker of the ubiquitous Budweiser — is in a really funky place.

The company reported a quarterly earnings miss on Thursday, showing weakness in the United States, and also in emerging markets where it’s hoping to take share, especially in China and Brazil.

In a call with reporters after the report, CFO Felipe Dutra admitted that this is “not where we want to be.”

Where the company is, to be more specific, is in kind of an investor purgatory. Macroeconomic headwinds and softness in Budweiser sales are mean growth is anemic. Total full year sales volume declined by 0.6% in 2015, and the company’s cost of sales increased by 3.9%. You can thank currency volatility for that.

What’s more, this is a company sitting on $42.2 billion of debt.

But there’s reason to hope (at least for the bulls) things will get better — AB InBev’s $110 billion merger with SABMiller. Together, they will make one out of every three beers in the market. In January InBev recently raised $46 billion in debt to get the deal done.

AB InBev’s play with the merger was to move more aggressively into emerging markets, and investors expect serious cost savings.

That is in part, because of the company’s reputation.

AB InBev, in case you didn’t know, is known for its commitment to “synergies” and cost cutting. Jorge Lemann, one of the Brazilian billionaire finance wizards behind the deal, and a board member at InBev once said that he would love to look at Coca-Cola.

“We could run it with 200 people,” he said.

Indeed, right before it announced that it would acquire SABMiller on October 13th, it shut down the only brewer in South Sudan.

BUD stock chartYahoo FinanceInBev YTD.

During Thursday’s earnings call, though, it seemed as if the company was acknowledging that it would have to spend money to make money. Big beer is a marketing business, and as the beer drinkers start picking up craft beers, getting Amy Schumer to appear in a television ad is one of the edges big beer companies still have.

And Amy costs money.

The AB-SAB transformation is not expected to be complete until the end of 2016. That’s when we’ll start to know if we’re really going to get the $1.4 billion in cost savings investors are expecting.

Macro economic headwinds, though, aren’t going anywhere. Neither are changing tastes toward smaller brewers. Debt is piling up, and investors are feeling negative about stocks. AB InBev’s stock is up less than half a per cent since the SABMiller deal was announced, and it’s down 10% year to date.

Wall Street will wait to see if this deal delivers, but Wall Street is not known for waiting politely.

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