Jack Daniel's maker posts lower 1st-qtr earnings

Friday, August 23, 2013, Vol. 37, No. 34

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Liquor producer Brown-Forman Corp. said Wednesday its first-quarter net income fell 3 percent, missing Wall Street forecasts, because of lower sales for a range of spirits compared with a year ago, when retailers stocked up ahead of price increases.

The company's flagship Jack Daniel's brand wasn't slowed by the price-driven trends. Its sales continued to expand in the most recent three-month period, even as the company reported lower net sales for such other key brands as el Jimador, Finlandia and Southern Comfort when excluding currency swings.

Adverse foreign exchange trends also hampered earnings in the three months that ended July 31, the Louisville-based company said.

The company sounded undeterred by the lower first-quarter results that came in below forecasts by Wall Street analysts.

"Our first quarter unfolded largely as anticipated," said Brown-Forman CEO Paul Varga. "We expect a stronger second quarter against last year's soft comparables, when trade inventories came back into balance after the first quarter price increase buy-ins."

The company reaffirmed its full-year earnings outlook between $2.80 and $3 per share.

Brown-Forman reported net income of $143 million, or 66 cents per share, for the first quarter. That's down from $147 million, or 69 cents per share, the year before. Quarterly net sales rose 2 percent to $896 million.

Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected earnings of 71 cents per share on net sales of $902.5 million.

A year ago, wholesalers and retailers stocked up ahead of broad price increases in the mid-single digits for Brown-Forman's spirits lineup — the first such increases since 2009. Prices had remained flat for several years as the company tried to hold on to demand amid tough economic conditions in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The company's whiskey brands continued to show market strength in this year's first quarter, even when compared with the inflated sales of a year ago.

The full Jack Daniel's lineup posted a 4 percent increase in net sales when excluding currency swings, the company said. Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey had continued robust sales, and the company said it was pleased with the honey-infused product's introduction in several overseas markets.

The company's super- and ultra-premium whiskey brands, which carry heftier prices, also had strong first-quarter growth, it said. Those brands include Gentleman Jack, Woodford Reserve, Jack Daniel's Single Barrel and Collingwood.

Meanwhile, net sales for the el Jimador tequila lineup dropped 20 percent when excluding currency swings. The drop was due to a surge in fourth-quarter sales in Mexico, a key market, ahead of another round of price increases for the brand, the company said.

Quarterly net sales for Finlandia vodka products fell 7 percent on the same constant-currency basis.

Sales for the Southern Comfort brand were down 4 percent. Sales gains in overseas markets were offset by declines in the U.S., the company said.

Sales for Korbel Champagne rose 45 percent, while Canadian Mist sales rose 3 percent.

Brown-Forman shares fell 38 cents to $68.64 in premarket trading.