Flocking to the Liquor Cabinet for Safety

Spirits companies are proving to be great for finding dividends and outperforming stocks.

Marshall Hargrave
Marshall Hargrave
Apr 29, 2014 at 4:46PM
Consumer Goods

Beam (UNKNOWN:BEAM.DL) is up more than 22% year to date after getting a buyout offer from Suntory Holdings. The offer price of $83.50 a share was a 25% premium to Beam's closing price the day before the announcement.

This has led to optimism in other parts of the alcohol market. Brown-Forman (NYSE:BF-B) is already up 15% year to date, driven in large part by the Beam buyout. The story for Brown-Forman got even better last month when the company reported fiscal third-quarter earnings that were up 13% year over year and blew past consensus estimates.

Is there any value left in the spirits market?
Being the only remaining publicly traded Tennessee whiskey company puts Brown-Forman in the driver seat. The market has been heating up for a number of years when it comes to whiskey. Brown-Forman's top selling brand is Jack Daniel's, but it also owns other brands, including Southern Comfort and Finlandia.

Brown-Forman has a market cap that's in line with Beam, but is it next in line for a buyout? There are plenty of companies out there that are interested in getting their hands on key whiskey brands, so the possibility is there.

Diageo (NYSE:DEO) is the world's largest wine and spirits company, with a market cap that's at $75 billion. It already has a robust portfolio that includes Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, and Guinness, but it could use an even larger presence in the Tennessee whiskey market. It does own the No. 2 Tennessee whiskey brand, George Dickel, but Dickel is a distant second.

Diageo has already been active on the merger and acquisition front lately. It has a tender offer on the table for 26% of United Spirits Limited. That'll bring Diageo's total ownership of United Spirits Limited up to 55%. However, this offer is at a 38 enterprise value-to-EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, multiple. That's quite high, considering Suntory is buying Beam at a 20 multiple.

International is also a big opportunity
In the meantime, Brown-Forman will continue to capitalize on its strong portfolio. This includes expanding its Jack Daniel's brand to international markets. It's expanding that brand in France and in the emerging markets, including Russia and Mexico.

Beyond that, Brown-Forman also has the potential to expand its variations of Jack Daniel's in these markets, which include Jack Daniel's Single Barrel and Gentleman Jack. Brown-Forman has been active in Europe over the past few years. The area now makes up more than 30% of its revenue, so Brown-Forman has an impressive opportunity to diffuse its other brands in the area.

The demand for whiskey continues to rise
As demand for whiskey has been on the rise over the last few years, this has ultimately led to a shortage of sorts. Maker's Mark even tried to dilute its bourbon last year in an effort to counter the shortage. The shortage-changing industry is a big positive for whiskey companies, especially those that are taking the shortage head on.

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Back in 2012, Brown-Forman embarked on a plan to double its barrel-making capacity. Its Alabama plant is expected to begin production this year. This should be a big positive as the barrel shortage continues to plague other distillers.

How shares stack up
Not only do investors get exposure to some of the top brands in the spirits market with Brown-Forman, but they also get a dividend-paying machine. Brown-Forman has paid dividends for more than 65 straight years. It's increased its annual dividend payment for 29 consecutive years. Its dividend yield stands at 1.3%.

Brown-Forman trades at a P/E of 27 based on next year's earnings estimates. And it boasts an impressive 37% return on equity. Diageo trades at a P/E of 17. However, Diageo's debt-to-equity ratio is more than double that of Brown-Forman's. As mentioned, Brown-Forman trades in line with Beam on a P/E basis, but its premium valuation will likely hold up as the company remains the best way to play the Tennessee whiskey market. 

Bottom line
Spirits, specifically American whiskey, are gaining strength among the younger demographic. That makes Brown-Forman's Jack Daniel's brand a key asset. Brown-Forman is an impressive company considering its strength in premium brands and geographical diversification. For investors looking to gain exposure to the spirits market, Brown-Forman is worth a closer look.