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Spirits Are High at Jack Daniel's

Premium spirits and alcohol firm Brown-Forman (NYSE: BF-A  ) (NYSE: BF-B  ) , owner of the venerable Jack Daniel's whiskey, is quickly regaining the premium that past investors ascribed to its stock price. Shareholders are toasting the company's recent results, but prospective investors will want to keep a clear head when checking out the company's worth.

Brown-Forman's Class A and B shares jumped as much as 5%, even though reported fourth-quarter earnings fell 15%. Reported full-year earnings grew only 1%, but rose 21% after stripping out a number of charges from discontinued operations. During the earnings conference call, management cited an "unusually high number of transactions" as it works to sell consumer durable business units not having to do with spirits.

It also recently acquired a premium Mexican tequila company -- Casa Herradura -- bringing the super-premium Herradura and premium El Jimador brands into its tequila portfolio. Other moves include the right-sizing of its wine business as it sold an Italian winery and transitioned a couple of California wine-related properties.

In other words, the financial statements have a number of moving parts, and management has done its best to provide investors more clarity into how core operations are performing. Recent acquisitions are fueling double-digit sales gains, while the flagship Jack Daniels, Southern Comfort, and Finlandia brands are doing well, especially overseas.

Operating cash flow improved only slightly year over year after a fall between FY 05 and FY 06, and debt increased because of the recent acquisition, but Brown-Forman was able to increase its dividend for yet another year and now sports a dividend yield of 1.8%.

Going forward, management expects reported per-share earnings to grow 8%-13% to $3.53-$3.68, including Casa Herradura acquisition charges. Based off the recent price of the class B shares, which are more liquid but don't have any voting rights attached to them, that's a forward P/E of just less than 20 times.  

Overall, Brown-Forman is one of the more impressive premium beverage operators, and you have to toast its long-term approach to managing its brands. With the full benefit of hindsight, picking up some shares earlier this year in the low $60s would have been a savvy move, but I continue to struggle with the rich valuation, even when excluding the recent one-time hits to the bottom line.

But now that Brown-Forman is a pure-play, high-end spirits firm, it is firmly geared to one of the fastest-growing areas in alcoholic beverages. Beer sales have stagnated in recent years, hurting firms such as Anheuser-Busch (NYSE: BUD  ) , and Molson Coors (NYSE: TAP  ) , while Constellation Brands (NYSE: STZ  ) (NYSE: STZ-B  ) is currently reeling from sour conditions in global wine trends.

My eye has been on Fortune Brands (NYSE: FO  ) recently as its exposure to struggling home and hardware products could be masking impressive profitability in a number of leading spirits and wine brands. Perhaps it should consider following the same path as Brown-Forman or Diageo by jettisoning nonalcohol businesses to inject some premium into their valuations. However you slice it, the entire space is worth keeping on your shelf of potential investment opportunities.                    

For related Foolishness:

Diageo is a recommendation of Motley Fool Income Investor. Anheuser-Busch is a recommendation of Motley Fool Inside Value. Whatever your taste preference, the Motley Fool has brewed up an investing service to quench your stock thirst.

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. Feel free to email him with feedback or to discuss any companies mentioned.

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