Though Fortune Brands
Fortune is best known for its hard alcohol brands, which make up the most stable and profitable portion of the company. Its alcohol sales held up well during the recession, falling only about 5% in 2008 and were flat in 2009. This was par for the course – peers Diageo
Spirits accounted for 35% of Fortune's Q1 sales but brought in 74% of the company's operating income. This is actually better diversification than in 2009, when spirits were 37% of sales but about 95% of operating income.
While spirits helped keep things stable during the recession, Q1's profit improvement was driven by Fortune's home-and-security segment, which upped comparable sales by 13%, and produced positive operating income after an operating loss in Q1 2009. This was an important development, as the segment's performance had struggled the last few years as housing fell apart. Even the golf segment showed a substantial operating profit, even though sales were up just 2%.
Still, it will be home-and-security that will have to lead any further recovery by Fortune. As consumer sentiment improves, Americans are likely to take on remodeling projects, which would boost sales of Fortune's cabinets, doors, and window products. But considering that home improvement bellwethers like Home Depot
Fortune's shares have nearly tripled from their March 2009 lows, but are still below the $80 or so they averaged from 2004-2007. And with good reason: Last year's sales of $6.7 billion last year were a far cry from the $8.5 billion it topped in both 2006 and 2007.
With the company selling about 20 times its own projected 2010 earnings, Fortune is no bargain. It remains a well-managed company with an enviable stable of premium brands and a nice dividend, but unless you're banking on an extended recovery in consumer spending and home-improvement projects, it's best to wait for a better price.
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Fortune Brands is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Home Depot and Lowe's Companies are Inside Value selections. Diageo is an Income Investor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.