Constellation Brands Swings to 4Q Loss

FAIRPORT, N.Y. (AP) -- Constellation Brands Inc. swung to a fourth-quarter loss Thursday, as its strong liquor sales were offset by a hefty impairment charge on its wine businesses in Australia and Britain.

Excluding the charge, its earnings beat Wall Street estimates, and its shares rose almost 5 percent in morning trading. It also offered earnings guidance above analysts' estimates for this year.

The company's 300-plus brands run from jug wines to coveted California reds, beer imports such as Corona and St. Pauli Girl and liquors like Fleischmann's vodka, Skol gin and Black Velvet Canadian whiskey.

Constellation, which is the world's biggest wine company, reported a loss of $831.9 million, or $3.90 a share, after paying preferred dividends for the December-February period compared with a year-ago profit of $70.2 million, or 29 cents a share.

Excluding an $807.1 million impairment charge, the company earned 34 cents a share in the latest fiscal period. Net sales after excise taxes fell to $884.4 million from $1.14 billion a year earlier.

Analysts polled by Thomson Financial forecast earnings of 25 cents a share on sales of $877.4 million.

Its shares rose $1, or 5.3 percent, to $19.72 in Thursday trading.

Branded wine sales fell 2 percent in the quarter. Sales rose 4 percent in Europe, fell 2 percent in Australia and New Zealand and dropped 3 percent in North America, hit by a move last spring to cut wine shipments to U.S. distributors as the company streamlined operations.

Overall sales of spirits jumped 26 percent, propelled by the acquisition in March 2007 of Svedka, a premium vodka produced in Sweden. A 9 percent growth in organic net sales reflected higher average selling prices and an increase in production services.

The company forecast a profit range of $1.68 to $1.76 for the 2009 fiscal year, compared with a consensus estimate of $1.67 among analysts.

Based in the Rochester suburb of Fairport, Constellation Brands has been buying up alcoholic-beverage businesses since the late 1980s. In 2003, it acquired Australian vintner BRL Hardy Ltd. for $1.1 billion in cash and stock in a deal that made it the world's largest wine business.

It jumped further ahead of longtime wine leader E.& J. Gallo Winery of Modesto, Calif., when it bought Robert Mondavi Corp. for $1.3 billion. In 2006, it bought Canada's Vincor International Inc. for nearly $1.1 billion.


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