Constellation Brands, the US-based drinks company, yesterday reported full year earnings 21% up on last year, exceeding estimates, while fourth quarter results were 31% higher than the same period last year. 

Constellation president and CEO Richard Sands said: "Despite a challenging economic environment, our sales grew organically by 8.5% and 18% with acquisitions, our 21% earnings increase continued our record of double-digit growth and we generated approximately US$430m of

Sands continued: "We also successfully managed an unprecedented year, making four excellent acquisitions and forming an exciting joint venture. Each acquisition benefited from leveraging our distribution strength and marketing skills."

For fiscal 2002, gross profit and gross profit margin were US$919m and 32.6%, respectively, compared to US$757m and 31.6% for fiscal 2001. Operating income was US$342m, a 26% increase over 2001.

Net sales reached US$674m for the fourth quarter, a 24% increase over the same period last year. Approximately half of the growth resulted from the inclusion of brands acquired in the Turner Road Vintners and Corus acquisitions in March 2001, including Vendange, Talus and Alice White, and from the Ravenswood brand, which was acquired in July 2001.  Excluding these acquisitions, net sales increased 12%, attributed primarily to growth in imported beer, fine wines and the UK

Sands said: "Our fourth quarter results were bolstered by significant imported beer volume growth, increasing margins for our popular and premium wines, a rebound in fine wine volumes and continuing volume and market share gains in our UK wholesale business."

Discussing the outlook Sands said: "We expect our growth driver businesses - fine wine, UK wholesale and imported beer - to deliver excellent results next year and drive continued double-digit earnings per share growth beyond the four consecutive years we have already delivered. Our announced two-for-one stock split underscores our confidence in the company's ability to deliver strong performance as well as our desire to develop greater investor participation in our Company. Constellation's top-line growth, margin improvements and deleveraging initiatives position us to build on our track record of growing earnings and delivering shareholder value."