Further solidifying its position in the cellar -- the wine cellar, that is -- Constellation Brands
There are some trends afoot in the world of wine and spirits that make this a shrewd move, but other factors ought to give investors pause before moving in here.
Constellation has been on an acquisition binge, snapping up the wineries of BRL Hardy for more than $1 billion in 2003, Robert Mondavi in 2004 for $1.3 billion, and Vincor last year for another $1.3 billion. The Hardy deal hasn't been sour grapes, but it hasn't been a bumper crop, either. In a separate announcement made along with the Fortune Brands purchase, Constellation said it was consolidating the Hardy unit's Australian operations and taking a $22 million charge.
Australia's wine industry has been affected by a glut of cheap wines, as a result of overplanting last year, but this year's withering drought has ruined harvests that could cut next year's production in half. Industry analysts forecast that grape production will fall from 2 million tons to somewhere between 800,000 and 1.3 million tons.
Is Constellation trying to shore up its wine division as industry trends point to growing consumption -- marketing industry magazine Brandweek shows wine sales outpacing beer by more than 2 to 1 -- or is it trying to mask the effects of crop failure? Constellation's latest earnings report had shrinking distributor inventories denting an otherwise strong performance in Canada; overall branded wine net sales in North America fell 4% year over year.
The wine and spirit distributor has been making a lot of acquisitions to help better position it against rivals Diageo
Constellation's wine cellar is certainly impressive, even before the $885 million Fortune purchase. Let's just hope though the vintner hasn't sampled too many of its own bottles in the process.
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Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not have a financial position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. Anheuser-Busch is a recommendation of Inside Value. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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