Constellation Brands (STZ -0.17%) gave investors several reasons to celebrate its recent third-quarter earnings report. Sales growth sped up thanks to booming demand for a few of its imported beer brands, including Modelo and Corona. The alcoholic-beverage specialist is also enjoying booming cash flow that management can direct toward upgrading its brewery network, marketing its products, or directly raising shareholder returns.
CEO Bill Newlands and his team outlined those goals while detailing their aggressive-growth outlook for the next fiscal year in a conference call with investors. Below, we'll look at a few highlights from that discussion.
Keeping the industry growing
Constellation's beer business continues to be one of the largest contributors to U.S. beer industry growth.
-- CEO Newlands
There was no shortage of good news in the beer portfolio, with growth accelerating to 12% from 5% in the previous quarter. Constellation Brands still had to endure pressure from reduced demand at bars, restaurants, and other on-premises sales. But beer for at-home consumption easily offset that slump.
The Corona brand grew by 12%, with help from the new hard-seltzer launch. And Pacifico notched a 35% spike that translated into solid market-share growth. But Modelo was the biggest standout through late November, notching a 20% demand spike that made it the biggest import market-share winner in the U.S. beer industry.
Overall, the portfolio's performance, while trailing Boston Beer's recent gains, kept Constellation Brands near the top of the industry. "Consumer demand for our core beer brands continues to be robust," Newlands said.
Constellation Brands continues to demonstrate its resiliency by generating robust financial results and continuing to focus on debt paydown despite a volatile environment and various headwinds driven by COVID-19.
-- CFO Garth Hankinson
The company's finances improved in the period, even though the wine and spirits segment struggled while Constellation Brands finished its portfolio reboot. Expenses fell and prices rose in the beer segment, which helped adjusted earnings jump 32% to $3.16 per share. Cash flow surged, too, allowing management to pay down debt -- enough to return to their target level following a busy period of acquisitions.
As a result, the company has plenty of resources to direct toward projects like its huge brewery capacity expansion in Mexico, even as it returns a projected $5 billion to shareholders through fiscal 2023. Surprisingly strong cash flow has management now considering more aggressive stock-repurchase spending over that period in addition to its commitment to dividend payments.
Our excellent year-to-date results provide confidence in our ability to achieve 7% to 9% net sales growth for fiscal 2021. In addition, we have increased our operating income growth target to 8% to 10% for the year.
-- CEO Newlands
Investors should expect a growth slowdown in the fourth quarter, mainly because some of this past quarter's growth came from inventory restocking. But the big-picture outlook is positive, both in terms of market-share wins and on improving profitability and cash flow.
Constellation Brands is projecting nearly double-digit gains in sales and operating earnings for the full year. That prospect should have investors feeling even more optimistic about this business, with returns over the next few years likely to be supported by stellar finances, but also impressive growth in beer, wine, and recreational marijuana products.