Diageo No Longer Bellying Up to the Bar

After two years of slamming back acquisitions like they were shots lined up on a bar, distiller Diageo (NYSE: DEO  ) says it's going to be a teetotaler, for a little while anyway. The maker of Johnnie Walker and Guinness does say it may take a nip every now and then, but it feels good about where it finds itself in the market, so it will primarily concentrate on its own brands.

That also means it won't buy rival whiskey distiller Beam (NYSE: BEAM  ) , a rumor that's floated around ever since it was spun off from Fortune Brands. Owning 23% of the North American whiskey market already with a portfolio consisting of brands that include Bushmills, Crown Royal, and George Dickel (which uses the traditional "whisky" spelling), along with Scotch whiskys such as J&B, and, yes, Johnnie Walker, Diageo is tied for the top spot with Jack Daniels maker Brown-Forman (NYSE: BF-B  ) in the market.

"We don't need to buy" Beam, Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes recently said. "Fundamentally our position in total North American whiskey is strong."

Instead, it will introduce two new ultra-premium bourbons, Orphan Barrel and Blade & Bow, which mimics the trend seen in the "browns" market and other distillates. Brown-Forman's Woodford Reserve super-premium bourbons, for example,  jumped 25% in the second quarter, while Beam's Maker's Mark saw a heady 17% spike in comp sales this past quarter. 

Elsewhere, sales of premium vodka, a market in which Diageo owns 25% of all production, is one of the fastest growing drink niches and has enjoyed a 5.2% CAGR since 2005, more than any other spirit. Vodka now comprises more than a third of the entire spirits segment. And Boston Beer (NYSE: SAM  ) is cashing in on the premium trend, pairing its super-premium Utopias that are brewed only once every two years in production runs of just 15,000 bottles that cost upwards of $200 each, with a signature cigar.

Since the start of 2011, Diageo has spent billions of dollars making some eight acquisitions in emerging markets, the region it sees as having the greatest growth potential. Last year it bought a stake in India's United Spirits and recently said it would be willing to sell its Whyte & Mackay whisky brand in the U.K. to quell any competition concerns regulators may hold.

So even though the distiller probably won't be quaffing any big deals here in North America, it does say it may sip on beer assets in Africa if they present themselves -- not surprising, really, since it actually sells more of its Guinness brand in Nigeria than it does in Ireland. And that's no blarney.

While Diageo is swearing off new deals, you needn't swear off its stock. At just 17 times estimated earnings, it trades at a discount to virtually all of its rivals, but with a leading position in most markets for its brands, it's a valuation you may want to raise a toast to.

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