Earlier this week, Deutsche Securities downgraded Constellation Brands(NYSE: STZ), a producer, marketer, and distributor of alcoholic beverages. Analyst Marc Greenberg said he was convinced that consumer demand was softening, especially in the wine segment. He also expressed concern that such conditions might not allow for a later planned price increase for the company's Corona beer. That caused Constellation to drop about 15%.

Instead of confirming Greenberg's opinion, however, the company issued a rather upbeat earnings report after the bell yesterday. Not only did it meet second-quarter estimates of $0.53 a share (a 15% increase over the prior-year period), it also said it was still on track to achieve third-quarter and full-year targets.

Although it's sticking with its guidance, Constellation is not exactly disputing Greenberg's assertion of slowing consumer demand. It will be interesting to suck down the conference call later, but in the meantime, we can check on the company's cash conversion cycle (CCC), which is a measure of how quickly a business converts its own expenditures back into cash. The thinking here is that if demand is softening, the CCC will rise as inventory sits in the stores longer.

For the three months ended Aug. 31, Constellation's CCC was at 154 days, compared to 151 days for the same period in 2001. (If that seems like a high number, remember that wine and spirits makers can't just sell their product the day they produce it. A lot of inventory is tied up in the aging process.) That slight increase, along with the fact that days inventory outstanding -- the number of days it takes to turn over inventory -- climbed a bit from 137 to 139 days, tell us Greenberg may be on to something.

These numbers aren't enough, in and of themselves, to confirm a significant drop in demand, but we'll definitely keep a close eye on them over the next few quarters.