Less bad, but not good: That much-bandied moniker aptly sums up Fortune Brands
Second-quarter sales for this Frankenstein conglomerate were down 17% year over year, better than the first quarter's 20% drop. Earnings per share, excluding one-time items, were $0.70 versus a comparable $1.25 a year ago and $0.30 in the prior quarter.
The spirits segment, which represents a majority of operating income, helped keep overall company performance from smashing through the barroom floor. Fortune's flat sales in spirits were downright bubbly compared to the revenue declines recently reported by competitors Brown-Forman
Helped by better margins, product mix, and possibly a stronger selling environment, sales in the home and hardware segment moderated sequentially, but were still down 23% from last year. Management seems to be doing everything it can to boost segment results. Still, the company sells faucets, windows, cabinets, and entry doors -- discretionary items. And (surprise!) management now sees a steeper decline in the home products market than originally expected.
If booze and home and hardware managed only an incremental recovery, it shouldn't be a shock that the business of selling little white balls and high-tech clubs didn't fare as well. Yes, Fools, the golf segment's year-over-year decline worsened from last quarter, which may be partially due to a delayed impact from corporate spending cuts. On a positive note, Asian golf sales remain brisk, and management doesn’t see trade-down to lower-priced brands -- trends that should help the company recover with a bang when the economy turns.
I've been cautious on Fortune Brands all year long, and that outlook is at least partially borne out, now that management's cut the top end of 2009 EPS guidance from $2.50 to $2.30. But that means that the stock is trading at 2009 P/E of 17.1 under the best-case scenario -- not cheap.
Some observers undoubtedly expect the housing market to recover in the next few quarters, boosting Fortune's sales. Sure, homebuilders D.R. Horton
As for spirits continuing to anchor the company's earnings, investors should note that Fortune's value brands represent a minority percentage of segment revenue. It seems to me that we're only a few consumer confidence points away from the possibility that trade-down behavior could drive net sales back into negative territory.
Until the market sobers up and prices in the relevant risks, I'd steer clear of Fortune's shares. Down the road, however, you may be able to toast that discipline with a glass of your favorite Fortune Brands libation.
- See Robert Steyer's bullish take on Fortune.
- Is Fortune Brands' Luck Finally Turning?
- Hangover Time for Wine and Spirits
- Will Housing Bottom in … 2011?