Fortune Brands has said that all of its business units have performed "at or above" its expectations in the first quarter of this year.

The US-based company, which owns Beam Global Spirits & Wine, said today (28 April) that it expects diluted earnings per share for the three-month period to hit around US$0.05.

Excluding one-time items, earnings per share before charges/gains should come in at around $0.30.

"Each of our businesses performed at or above our expectations in navigating what we expected to be the most difficult quarter of the year," said Fortune's chairman and CEO, Bruce Carbonari.

"While economic conditions and the consumer environment remain challenging, our first quarter results reinforce our confidence in achieving our full-year earnings target of diluted EPS before charges/gains to be in the range of $2.00-2.50."

The company also announced a series of initiatives designed to increase free cash flow, thereby "enhancing its ability to pay down debt and capitalise on potential value-creating opportunities".

As a result of these initiatives, Fortune lifted its 2009 target for free cash flow from the range of $100m-$200m to around $400m, after dividends and capital expenditures.

The company said it is targeting an additional $125m of free cash this year, by "further tightening capital expenditures and enhancing our use of working capital". At the same time, Fortune's annual dividend will be reduced to $0.76 per share, enabling the company to retain an additional $150m on an annually, which represents $110m over the balance of 2009.

"As we position Fortune Brands to create value in this challenging economy and beyond, one of the undeniable truths of the current economic environment is that 'cash is king,'" Carbonari said. "Enhancing financial flexibility in this climate is a strategic imperative that increases our ability to create value for shareholders."

Fortune's board has subsequently declared a regular dividend of $0.19 per share on the common stock, payable in cash on 1 June to stockholders of record at the close of business on 13 May. The company also declared a regular dividend of $0.6675 cents per share on the $2.67 convertible preferred stock, payable in cash on 10 June to stockholders of record on 13 May.

Fortune is scheduled to announce its Q1 results on Friday (1 May).