Heineken said last week that it is still interested in bidding for the Bass breweries, which Interbrew has been ordered to sell by the Department of Trade and Industry on competition grounds.

Karel Vuursteen, the Dutch brewer's chief executive, agreed at the company's results press conference that he would be interested in some Bass beer brands. Asked whether he would be interested in the whole company, he replied: "Maybe."

Interbrew, which also owns Whitbread's former brewing arm, is seeking a judicial review of the DTI's ruling

Mr Vuursteen said: "We'll just wait to see what the court case proves to be and then we'll make up our mind."

South Africa Breweries, which has already confirmed its interest, is tipped as the favourite to but Bass Brewing, although the price is expected to be well below the £2.3bn paid by Interbrew. Analysts believe that Interbrew would prefer a deal with SAB rather than its big European rival.

Heineken predicted more earnings growth this year as it reported a larger-than-expected 20% rise in net profit, boosted by acquisitions.

Net profit rose to Eu621m (£390m) from Eu516m in 1999, as sales climbed to Eu8.11bn from Eu7.15bn. Analysts had expected net profit of Eu597m to Eu608m.

Operating profit rose 15.3% to Eu921m.

Total beer volumes rose to 97.9m hectolitres, placing Heineken third in the world brewing league behind the American brewer Anheuser-Bush and Belgium's Interbrew, (including Bass).

Vuursteen said: "We expect to reach the 100m hectolitres milestone in the short term."

Analysts welcomed the five-for-four share split that Heineken also announced, saying it improved trade in the shares.