As has been the case for each of its last three earnings reports, investors have high expectations for Constellation Brands' (NYSE: STZ) fiscal 2018 fourth quarter announcement. That's mainly because, while the broader beer industry was flat in 2017, Constellation enjoyed spiking demand, rising prices, and increased distribution. Its twin successes of increased market share and improving profitability supported an impressive stock price rally in the past year.
The alcoholic beverage giant will update investors on each of those operating trends in its earnings report on Thursday, March 29. Let's take a closer look at what shareholders can expect from that announcement.
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All about the beer
Constellation Brands' wine and spirits portfolio has been a bit of a disappointment this year, with sales flat in the most recent quarter despite extra marketing spending. But success in the beer segment has easily offset that miss. Beer sales, anchored by the hit Corona and Modelo franchises, are on pace to rise 10% for the full year while the broader industry expands at a rate closer to 3%.
In addition to those healthy market share gains, investors will want to see continued progress on pricing. Constellation Brands has raised prices across much of its beer portfolio while adding higher-margin offerings. As a result, operating margin jumped three percentage points last quarter to 38% of sales. The company will need more wins like that to achieve management's long-term profit goals. Yet it has already made big strides in that direction, with operating margin surging to 33% of sales from 25% three years ago.
It will be tough to keep that momentum going, but the company is hoping that more distribution points, including into new channels like convenience stores, will help. Constellation Brands also plans to roll out a few major product launches in the months to come, including the first national extension of the Corona franchise in decades.
Spending and finances
So far, Constellation Brands has decided to plow much of its increased cash flow right back into the business. It is wrapping up a three-year, $4.5 billion project aimed at raising production capacity in its Mexican breweries, for one. The company also just struck a deal with a major manufacturer to create the largest glass container factory in the world.
Both initiatives should result in lower costs over time, assuming demand continues growing at a healthy pace. Management hasn't shied away from tack-on acquisition opportunities either, having recently invested in the marijuana business ahead of Canada's planned legalization of recreational cannabis products.
The company's outlook for 2018 could include big news on this financing score, given that the bulk of Constellation's spending projects are behind it.
With its coffers overflowing, management might return excess cash flow to shareholder with stock buybacks and higher dividends. Alternatively, CEO Rob Sands and his team might decide to stockpile cash in anticipation of another large acquisition.
Its last major purchase, after all -- the $5 billion acquisition of its U.S. beer portfolio from Anheuser Busch InBev back in 2013 -- has worked wonders for this business by allowing it to profit like no other industry participant has from the shift in consumer tastes toward premium imported beers.
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