Tequila Sunrise at Brown-Forman

Pass the lime and salt. Today, Brown-Forman (NYSE: BFb  ) (NYSE: BFa  ) , owner of a multitude of liquor and spirit brands, including the venerable Jack Daniel's whiskey, agreed to make a run for the border. It's buying most of the assets of Mexican tequila maker Casa Herradura and its related $200 million in 2005 sales.

According to the press release announcing the deal, Casa Herradura is the second-oldest tequila company and the third-largest one -- behind Cuervo, owned by the largest spirits company, Diageo (NYSE: DEO  ) ; and Sauza, owned by another large spirts company, Fortune Brands (NYSE: FO  ) . Brown-Forman management stated that Casa Herradura has comparable operating margins to its own company and expects a couple of years of dilution before the deal starts to contribute to earnings. Other assets acquired include facilities for the tequila production and distribution, and sales channels in Mexico.

The brands that Brown-Forman will acquire in the deal include super-premium Herradura and premium El Jimador tequilas, as well as tequila-based, ready-to-drink New Mix. The purchase will set Brown-Forman back about $876 million and is expected to dilute corporate earnings by an estimated $0.08-$0.12 for fiscal 2007. As I detailed in an overview of Brown-Forman's fiscal 2006 earnings, the company tends to take a very long-term perspective in developing and promoting its liquor brands, so the near-term earnings dilution can be taken as confirmation that management is interested in what the next decade holds, rather than just the next quarter.

As such, the deal looks to be a good fit, since it gives Brown-Forman a couple of well-positioned and established premium tequila brands. It already owns a few other tequilas, including mid-priced, regional Pepe Lopez and super-premium, "developing" Don Eduardo. But the acquisition suggest that those brands were either not ideally positioned or that the company was just looking for more exposure to one of the faster-growing spaces in the liquor marketplace.

The related press release offered some useful supplemental information regarding the domestic and Mexican tequila markets. It stated that 86% of all tequila sales are made in the U.S. and Mexico and that tequila is among the fastest-growing of all spirits in both countries. Tequila also represents a dominant 42% of all liquors sold in Mexico, while it is the eighth-largest in the United States. Plus, demographic trends are favorable, since the Hispanic population is among the fastest growing here in los Estados Unidos.

Overall, the move appears to be a savvy yet expensive purchase of a company with a storied history. We'll soon know more about Brown-Forman as a whole -- it's set to release first-quarter earnings on Thursday -- but the company is definitely worth tracking. After all, consumers have been shifting from the likes of beer makers Anheuser-Busch (NYSE: BUD  ) , Miller, and Molson Coors (NYSE: TAP  ) into premium alcohol and spirit drinks. In fact, Anheuser's opening paragraph in its most recent annual report conceded that beer is losing share to premium-branded vodkas. More on that later this week.

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Diageo is anIncome Investorpick, and Anheuser-Busch is anInside Valuerecommendation. Take a taste of any of our investing newsletter services -- they're free for the first 30 days.

Fool contributor Ryan Fuhrmann is long shares of Diageo but has no financial interest in any other company mentioned. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.


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