What's the best way to describe Fortune Brands (NYSE:FO), which makes Jim Beam bourbon, Effen vodka, Titleist golf balls, Cobra golf clubs, Moen faucets, and Master Lock padlocks?

If someone mentions the word "screwdriver," I don't know whether I should check a liquor store or the hardware aisle.

Given that disclaimer, I'll note that Fortune is emulating pure-play peers in the alcoholic beverage industry, such as Constellation Brands (NYSE:STZ) and Brown-Forman (NYSE:BF-B), by producing quarterly earnings that beat Wall Street estimates but lagged year-ago quarterly results.

Fortune said Friday that it earned $0.70 per share for the April-June quarter, excluding one-time events, or $0.06 better than the consensus of Wall Street analysts.

On a reported basis for the second quarter, however, net income of $0.66 per share was well below the $0.88 for the year-ago quarter. Net sales of $1.74 billion were a 17% drop.

Trying to figure it out
Fortune said earnings and revenue declined at a "more moderate pace" from the preceding quarter, adding that the spirits business "tempered" the double-digit sales declines for the golf equipment and home/hardware businesses.

Each unit performed "in line" with quarterly expectations, the company said. Although the home/hardware business returned to profitability in the quarter, the spirits unit provided most of Fortune's operating income.

The market offers many corporate combinations for Wall Street to digest, but Fortune -- designated a Frankenstein conglomerate by Foolish colleague Mike Pienciak -- is difficult to evaluate.

Do you compare it to alcoholic beverage producers such as Diageo (NYSE:DEO), home-improvement product companies such as Masco (NYSE:MAS), or golf-equipment makers such as Callaway Golf (NYSE:ELY)?

One illustration of this difficulty is Fortune's recent guidance for the fiscal year -- a wide EPS range of $2.00 to $2.30. At least that's tighter than the $2.00 to $2.50 prediction offered a few months ago.

Planning ahead
Investors who bought Fortune 30 years ago and sold it in 2005 made a fortune. Even if they hold the stock today, it still outshines the S&P 500 index by a healthy margin.

For less patient investors, Fortune doesn't compare so well to Diageo, Brown-Forman, and Constellation Brands. Over five years, it trails each one. Over 12 months, it trails Diageo and Brown-Forman.

If you're buying Fortune for itself, then maybe you can take comfort that alcoholic beverages have moderated the recession-induced shellacking of the other divisions. But if you're researching wine and spirits, or even a brewer like Molson Coors (NYSE:TAP), to help ease your portfolio in tough times, then you can't be happy that golf clubs and kitchen cabinets are restraining your investment.

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Fortune Brands is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Diageo and Masco are Motley Fool Income Investor picks. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Robert Steyer doesn't own shares of companies mentioned in this article.