US drinks group, Constellation Brands, has reported net income up US$10m, or 18%, for the third quarter to reach US$64m. Diluted earnings per share of US$0.69 for the quarter represents an increase of 13% over diluted earnings per share of US$0.61 for the prior year third quarter.

The results were ahead of analysts forecasts which had predicted earnings of around 68 cents per share. Third-quarter net sales rose by 5% to $738.4m.

For the first nine months of fiscal 2003, net income increased 23% and diluted earnings per share increased 16% to reach $1.63. These results were calculated on a comparable basis, excluding amortization of goodwill and indefinite lived intangible assets.

Richard Sands, chairman and chief executive officer of Constellation, said: "Constellation's sales and earnings this quarter were driven by growth in imported beer and solid popular and premium wine results. Despite a difficult economic environment, we continue to hit our earnings targets. Our balanced growth strategy continues to serve us well as we achieved our 19th consecutive quarter of double-digit earnings growth, a testament to our broad portfolio strategy."

Sands added: "Constellation's business remains strong and we are raising our full-year earnings per share guidance to $2.03 to $2.05. As we look to the future, Constellation remains well positioned in sectors with good long-term growth prospects. We are confident we can build on our growth track record and we continue to target mid-teens EPS growth."

Constellation has also raised its full-year earnings forecast from between $2.00 and $2.04 to between $2.03 and $2.05 per share. "We are confident we can build on our growth track record and we continue to target mid-teens EPS (earnings per share) growth," said Sands.