Boston Beer Missed on Earnings, But It's Why That Matters

Lower-than-expected earnings and soft guidance sent some investors fleeing Sam Adams maker Boston Beer in the after hours. But behind those numbers was a story of strong growth.

Feb 26, 2014 at 11:00AM

Boston Beer (NYSE:SAM) delivered mixed results for the quarter Tuesday. It beat revenue estimates, but missed the mark on earnings, with its $1.33 quarterly EPS coming up short of the consensus estimate of $1.49. The company also issued soft earnings guidance for 2014. Investors responded by lightening up on the stock, and it was down by more than 5% in after-hours trading.

The sell-off was an overreaction. Yes, earnings missed estimates, but it's why Boston Beer came up short on profit that should have investors' attention.

The reasons for the miss tell the tale of a far-from-mature brewer growing faster than even it had planned for, and trying to make adjustments on the fly. True, if you're an investor looking for earnings beats now or in the next quarter, Boston Beer may not be the beer stock for you. Perhaps Anheuser-Busch InBev (NYSE:BUD), which delivers earnings soon, might shape up as a better choice, if it can keep growing internationally and stem market-share losses here in the States. At the least, it will pay you a 3% dividend while you wait for things to improve.

But if you're a growth investor thinking in terms of years, and not months or quarters, Boston Beer just served up some pretty exciting news in the shadow of that earnings miss. Let's take a look.

Sales growth is accelerating
When it comes to growing beverage sales, Jim Koch and company have stepped on the gas. Revenue for the Sam Adams maker was up 34% over the prior-year period, which marks an acceleration even over last quarter's 30%. For the full year, revenue was up 27%. The new West Coast-style Rebel IPA was well-received, as was Belgian-style white ale Cold Snap, Koch said. Twisted Tea beverages and Angry Orchard ciders continue to gain ground, management reported.

What's more, the company continues to see sales of its 30-year-old flagship Boston Lager tick upward. All this left Boston Beer unable to keep up with the demand for its beers and other beverages. That led to increased operating and freight costs -- and lower profits.

To address this moving forward, the company has "significantly increased" tank capacity at its breweries, as well as its packaging and shipping capabilities, CEO Martin Roper said.

Outpacing the competition
Roper told analysts that Boston Beer's growth "continues to challenge us operationally." That's a problem most other brewers wouldn't mind dealing with, including competitor Craft Brew Alliance (NASDAQ:BREW).

Craft Brew served up a pretty flat 2013, with sales up just 6% on the year, despite the West Coast brewer's aggressive expansion eastward, marketing partnerships with Buffalo Wild Wings, Dan Patrick, and TheChive.com, and progress with its Kona and Redhook labels. Craft Brew hopes for a better 2014, with a new brewery on the way to serve the East Coast, an investment that should help to bring down costs over the long haul.

Boston Beer is already the country's largest craft brewer, nearly tripling the output of runner-up Sierra Nevada. It's had a national footprint for a long time. So this kind of growth for the brewer is impressive. The company is looking to grab the bull by the horns moving ahead, not only increasing capacity, but increasing its marketing and rolling out several more beers to add to its deep portfolio of more than 70 brews.

The Foolish bottom line
Given the momentum it now has, Boston Beer thinks this is the right time to make deeper investments in its brands and operations.

"We are prepared to forsake the earnings that may be lost as a result of these investments in the short term as we pursue long-term, profitable growth," Roper said.

As long as these investments continue to deliver impressive sales growth, investors should give Boston Beer the benefit of the doubt that they will eventually translate to bigger profits and even better market share.

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John-Erik Koslosky owns shares of Boston Beer. The Motley Fool recommends Boston Beer. The Motley Fool owns shares of Boston Beer. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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