Despite the long and continuing export boom, investors are suddenly looking sourly at some of Australia’s biggest, listed wine producers with BRL Hardy and Southcorp shares prices being battered.

Southcorp which peaked at A$7.88 (US$4.33) last December closed at A$4.75 on Friday while BRL Hardy closed at A$6.71 its lowest for more than two years.

Southcorp’s slide began after comments by outgoing chairman Rick Allert at the company’s annual meeting that along with the rest of the industry it was having a tough time amid deteriorating economic conditions and was feeling the pressures of increased competition.

Allert assured shareholders that despite some softness in the home market Southcorp was selling more of its premium brands to increase revenue per case and margins. The full year earnings target of A$335 million - US$185 million - remained in place, he said.

However, his comments triggered the share price fall and prices remained soft through the week.

The BRL Hardy selldown began on Thursday despite assurances from managing director Stephen Millar that profit growth was on track and the company would post 15% profit growth in 2002-03.

The share price of the third of the listed big four Australian producers, Foster's, which has a big brewing operation, has been resilient while the fourth, Orlando Wyndham, is a subsidiary of the French Pernod Ricard group and is unlisted.

Share prices of smaller producers such as McGuigan Simeon and Peter Lehmann have also moved below year highs but in less dramatic fashion.