Is Molson's Bottle Half Full, or Half Empty?

In my search for recession-proof investments, I've been looking at beer and liquor stocks to see if they would indeed hold up during tough times. Unfortunately, in announcing Tuesday that its fourth-quarter net income dropped 44% from year-ago levels, Molson Coors (NYSE: TAP  ) pulled the rug out from under that theory.

So maybe there's just no good defense against a recession. Or is there? Let's take a closer look.

Reality trumps theory?
Though the stock market has stopped free-falling -- at least for the moment -- the recession is still in full force. So looking for companies that can count on dependable, sustainable revenue and income is more critical than ever.

The so-called sin stocks -- casinos, tobacco, and liquor -- are generally seen as a solution to that problem. Few people want to give up their small, affordable vices, even when times are tough.

But at least for Molson Coors, reality tore the theory to shreds. Earnings per share fell by nearly half to $0.49 per share. Even adjusted for various one-time charges, including some stemming from its MillerCoors co-venture, per-share earnings still dropped nearly 22% from the same quarter last year.

In response, the market paid not a bit of attention to the recession-proof theory -- instead, it dropped Molson shares for an 8% loss after the report.

What really happened
It pays to read the fine print. Yes, Molson Coors' earnings jumped halfway off a cliff. However, more than half of the decline in earnings from continuing operations came from currency-related effects. Take the stronger dollar out of the equation, as well as the MillerCoors charges, and you cut the loss to a single-digit percentage decline.

I'm not forgiving Molson for the loss, though. A drop is a drop no matter what the reason, fair or unfair.

But my point is that you should think about Molson's strong-dollar problem -- which is a problem that other domestic brewers, including Boston Beer (NYSE: SAM  ) , may face as well. Also, consider which companies may not have a problem with a strong dollar: foreign brewers.

The alternatives
If you want to tap into the global consistency of beer consumption, but want to avoid the headache of an appreciating dollar, I recommend Mexico's FEMSA (NYSE: FMX  ) and Brazil's AmBev (NYSE: ABV  ) . Ambev's earnings rose 62% year over year in its most recent quarter, and net margins stayed strong at nearly 20% for the quarter. FEMSA's earnings, on the other hand, declined year over year, and margins aren't nearly as wide. However, FEMSA is expected to resume growing this year, and with a forward P/E around 12, it's attractively priced.

At the very least, these companies can act as a hedge against a rising U.S. dollar. But both are also legitimate, quality companies in their markets.

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Fool contributor James Brumley doesn't own any of the companies mentioned above. He and the rest of The Motley Fool's writers abide by the Fool's disclosure rules.


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