Jack Daniel's maker reports 3Q earnings rise

AP News
Posted: Mar 08, 2011 7:43 PM
Jack Daniel's maker reports 3Q earnings rise

Liquor company Brown-Forman Corp. posted a 30 percent increase in its third-quarter profit on Tuesday, beating Wall Street estimates on the strength of robust international sales and a sales spike for its Jack Daniel's and el Jimador brands.

Its shares rose almost 5 percent to close Tuesday at $70.67, up $3.21.

The Louisville-based company also raised its full-year earnings outlook and reported improving results in the United States, where the economic downturn has made consumers less inclined to venture out to drink at bars and restaurants.

The maker of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey and Southern Comfort has focused attention on boosting sales overseas. It said sales gains in the first nine months of its fiscal year were led by strong performances in Australia, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Turkey, Germany, France and Brazil.

"We continue to be pleased with our broad-based growth encompassing both developed and emerging international markets," Brown-Forman CEO Paul Varga said in a statement.

Varga said the third-quarter performance showed accelerated growth from the first half of the company's fiscal year, led by the Jack Daniel's and el Jimador brands.

"We also were encouraged by the improving top line results in the United States," he said.

Don Berg, Brown-Forman's chief financial officer, said in a conference call with industry analysts that growth in the company's international business continues to drive growth. International sales account for 56 percent of its total net sales, he said.

Looking at the U.S. market, Berg said the overall spirits business appears to be improving. He said consumers are showing more willingness to spend on higher-priced spirits, but said out-on-the-town drinking _ which the industry calls "on premise" consumption _ appears to be "somewhat erratic" on a monthly basis but appears to have been flat over the past 12 months.

In a note to investors, UBS analyst Kaumil S. Gajrawala was upbeat about the prospects for the spirits industry and Brown-Forman.

"We believe U.S. spirit trends should improve sequentially throughout the year, with the return to trading up, continued share gain vs. beer and a reduction in promotional activity year-over-year," he wrote. "Brown-Forman is well positioned and branded to take advantage of these industry trends."

Brown-Forman shares climbed $3.35, or 5 percent, to $70.81in afternoon trading after rising to a 52-week high of $73.61 earlier in the session.

The company reported net income of $140.7 million, or 96 cents per share, in the three months ending Jan. 31, up from $107.9 million, or 73 cents per share, a year earlier.

Net revenue rose 12 percent to $962.4 million from $861.7 million a year ago.

Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected earnings of 86 cents per share for the quarter.

The company raised its full-year earnings outlook to a range of $3.35 to $3.45 per share, up from its previous projected range of $3.18 to $3.42 per share. The upgraded forecast excludes the estimated gain of 20 cents to 30 cents per share from its recently announced sale of Fetzer Vineyards. Analysts expected adjusted earnings of $3.08 a share.

For the first nine months of its fiscal year, Brown-Forman reported net income of $406.1 million, or $2.77 a share, up from $376.5 million, or $2.53 a share, a year ago. Net revenue rose to $2.61 billion from $2.49 billion.

The company said spent more on advertising in the quarter and during the first nine months of the fiscal year.

Brown-Forman said its Jack Daniel's lineup of brands had a 9 percent gain in net sales for the first nine months. The Jack Daniels' ready-to-drink products posted a 22 percent gain, based on a constant currency basis.

The company's el Jimador tequila brand posted a 15 percent gain in net sales for the nine months, also on a constant currency basis. The entire el Jimador lineup had a 13 percent gain.

Its Finlandia vodka brand posted a 1 percent gain in net sales for the nine months on the same basis, while Southern Comfort had a 1 percent decline. Net sales for Canadian Mist were off 6 percent in the period, Korbel Champagne sales were flat and a lineup of super-premium brands including Chambord, Herradura, Sonoma-Cutrer and Woodford Reserve had a 12 percent gain.

Brown-Forman said it plans to revamp its marketing strategy for Southern Comfort, which has endured slumping sales. The company also is planning new packaging for Finlandia in the next several months.