Alcohol stocks are supposed to be recession-resistant, along with the likes of tobacco, gambling, and a few others. The coronavirus pandemic stood a lot of that conventional wisdom on its head, and though cleaning supplies naturally flourished, booze, betting, and cigarettes fell hard.
Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey maker Brown-Forman (NYSE:BF.A)(NYSE:BF.B) was no different, also falling victim to the downturn despite liquor stores being deemed essential businesses and allowed to remain open.
That's because restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, which make up 20% of the distiller's sales, were ordered to close, while travel-related sales -- another key aspect of its operations -- were shut down, too.
Floating on a whiskey river
Fortunately, off-premise packaged goods stores flourished, salvaging Brown-Forman's fiscal year as its premium brand portfolio grew underlying net sales at double-digit rates. Sales of top-shelf brands such as Woodford Reserve jumped 19% year over year and the 150-year-old Old Forester brand rose at even higher rates.
Yet it still wasn't enough to offset the decline in the distiller's flagship Jack Daniel's brand, which registered a 3% drop in depletions, which are sales to distributors and retailers and considered an industry proxy for consumer demand.
Investors were rightly concerned about how the COVID-19 outbreak would hit all businesses early on, and Brown-Forman's stock, which started the year at $67.23, plummeted 29% to just over $46 a share at the market's bottom in late March.
Yet like most other stocks, Brown-Forman rallied afterward, surging 55% to end last week at $72 a share. That means if you had invested $10,000 in the distiller's stock on Jan. 1 and stuck by it, you would have 6.6% more today than you started with.
Your investment would be worth $10,660 and it would be almost as if the coronavirus-related market rout never occurred.