Will Boston Beer Brew Up An Earnings Beat?

Boston Beer (NYSE: SAM  ) , the brewer driving America's craft beer revolution, has been a top performer over the last few years and investors hope to see more of this in 2014. The company is best known for its Samuel Adams brand, but it is also the mastermind behind the popular Angry Orchard hard cider brand. It is scheduled to release quarterly results on Feb. 25, so let's take a look at the current estimates and see if we should pick up positions right now.

The October blowout
Boston Beer released its third-quarter report on Oct. 30 and it blew past analysts' expectations on both the top and bottom lines; here's an overview:

Metric Reported Expected
Earnings Per Share $1.89 $1.82
Revenue $216.40 million $200.42 million

Boston Beer's earnings per share increased 19.1% and revenue rose 28.5%, driven by core shipment volume growing 29%. Gross profit increased 23.7% to $115.38 million, but the gross margin declined 300 basis points to 53% as the company faced increased processing and ingredient costs. The company noted strength in its Samuel Adams, Angry Orchard, and Twisted Tea brands as key drivers of growth and expects the strength to continue for the rest of the year. Overall, this was a great quarter for Boston Beer and I believe the momentum carried over and grew in the fourth quarter.

Expectations and what to watch for
Boston Beer's fourth-quarter results are due out after the market closes on Feb. 25 and analysts project substantial growth. Here's a breakdown of the estimates and a year-over-year comparison:

Metric Expected Year Ago
Earnings Per Share $1.51 $1.25
Revenue $193.70 million $153.00 million

These expectations call for the company's earnings per share to increase 20.8% and revenue to rise 26.6% year-over-year; this would be very similar to the performance Boston Beer had in the third quarter. Other than the key metrics, it will be crucial for the company to provide guidance for fiscal 2014 that is within or above analyst estimates; the current consensus estimate calls for earnings per share of $6.46 on revenue of $850 million. Also, I would like to see little to no decline in the gross margin, showing that the increased costs of processing and ingredients shown in the third quarter were passed on to the customer in the fourth quarter.

I believe these earnings expectations are attainable and they will actually be exceeded due to better-than-expected volume growth caused by the holiday season and the cold weather. I think Samuel Adams and Angry Orchard will lead the way again, as people kept their fridges stocked with these two popular brands for their many family dinners and the times when they were snowed-in. In terms of guidance, I think Boston Beer will provide in-line guidance, so the company can follow the popular "under-promise and over-deliver" method of forecasting.

Competitor's results due out a day later
On the day following Boston Beer's release, Anheuser-Busch InBev (NYSE: BUD  ) , the largest brewer in the world, will release a quarterly report of its own. A-B InBev is home to over 200 brands, 14 of which provide sales of over $1 billion per year; these include Budweiser, Bud Light, Stella Artois, Michelob Ultra, and Beck's.

A-B InBev's fourth-quarter results are due out before the market opens on Feb. 26 and analysts expect double-digit growth on both lines; here's an overview: 

Metric Expected Year Ago
Earnings Per Share $1.29 $1.12
Revenue $11.6 billion $10.3 billion

These estimates would result in earnings per share rising 15.2% and revenue increasing 12.6% from the same period a year ago. Investors should never underestimate the largest company in any industry, so I believe the company will meet expectations, led by the Budweiser and Bud Light brands. Like Boston Beer, it will be important for A-B InBev to provide an outlook for fiscal 2014 that is within expectations, which currently call for earnings per share of $5.33 on revenue of $47.7 billion. Overall, I still prefer Boston Beer over A-B InBev from an investment standpoint today, but it is a very close race.

Molson's slow-down is Boston's opportunity

On Feb. 13, Molson Coors (NYSE: TAP  ) released its fourth-quarter report and it showed that if the beer market grew, it was not because of its brands. The brewer behind brands such as Coors Light and Blue Moon reported earnings per share decreasing 1.5% and revenue decreasing 0.2%, as volume grew just 0.1% year-over-year. The one positive out of the company was a 16% increase in its quarterly dividend, from $0.32 to $0.37, but I do not think this outweighed the negatives; however, the market has reacted by sending the shares more than 4% higher. Overall, these were dismal results, but it presents the opportunity for Boston Beer to continue gaining ground on the competition. If Molson Coors can run higher on negative year-over-year growth, imagine what Boston Beer's stock could do if it shows 20%+ growth. 

The Foolish bottom line
Boston Beer is an American powerhouse and consumers cannot seem to get enough of its many brands. The stock has had a great run over the last year with a rise of more than 50%, and I think it can continue its run higher on strong earnings. The fourth-quarter report is due out on Feb. 25 and I believe Boston Beer will exceed analysts' expectations; this could propel the stock back toward its 52-week high, which it sits more than 15% below today, so investors should strongly consider initiating positions right now.

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