Constellation Brands (STZ -1.76%) investors have some big questions heading into this week's earnings announcement. Big changes are sweeping through the alcoholic beverage industry as people shift their consumption back to restaurants and bars following pandemic closures. The owner of imported brands like Corona and Modelo is also dealing with a costly portfolio transformation in its wine and spirits business.
With that bigger picture in mind, let's look at three questions worth listening for the answers on when the company announces its fiscal 2022 Q2 results (covering the months of June, July, and August) on the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 6.
1. How is the demand for beer?
The big question heading into the report is whether Constellation noticed a sharp pullback in its beer business, and especially in the hard seltzer niche. Rival Boston Beer, which owns the popular Truly franchise, shocked investors when it reduced its outlook for that brand. Boston Beer management's comments suggested an end to the accelerating growth phase in that niche, too, which might spell bad news for Constellation's latest push into the area.
Its portfolio isn't nearly as dependent on hard seltzer, though, with hit beer brands including Pacifico, Corona, and Modelo. These products have helped keep sales growth near double-digit percentages in recent quarters even compared to last year's surge. Shareholders are hoping for a similarly strong revenue hike this week.
2. How will rising costs affect pricing power?
Whether beer giants like it or not, this fiscal year is providing a major test of their pricing power. Costs are soaring for key inputs like aluminum and glass, and transportation expenses are jumping, too. We'll learn on Wednesday whether Constellation Brands was able to minimize those spikes while passing along the difference through higher average prices.
Its focus on the premium side of the industry should help Constellation manage these increases better than rivals like Anheuser-Busch InBev. Follow the operating margin metric this week for signs of pricing stress. Ideally, operating earnings will continue growing slightly faster than revenue.
3. How is the bigger picture looking for Constellation Brands?
Regardless of the short-term swings in demand, Constellation should make valuable comments on its big-picture growth bets. The company has been busy upgrading its Mexican brewery network and transforming its wine and spirits portfolio, and CEO Bill Newlands and his team will detail their progress on these initiatives.
The brewery project is adding capacity and boosting efficiency, which will support higher sales and profits over time. The portfolio reboot, meanwhile, should help that segment grow more steadily while pushing profitability closer to the beer division's industry-thumping rate. And Constellation Brands' bets on recreational marijuana promise to pay big dividends over time.
As for the rest of calendar year 2021, look for executives to adjust their outlook, which currently calls for sales to rise by between 7% and 9% in the core beer business as earnings land between $10 per share and $10.30 per share. Free cash flow is on track to reach as high as $1.5 billion and help support rising cash returns through dividends and stock buybacks.
Judging by the stock price trends in recent weeks, investors aren't expecting another hike to that outlook, which means the bar for Wednesday's report is relatively low.