Brown-Forman has posted a healthy lift in sales and profit for its second quarter, although the rises failed to bring operating profit for the year so far into the black.

The US-based spirits and wine company, whose brands include Jack Daniel's, Southern Comfort and Fetzer, said today (5 December) that operating profit for the three months to the end of October increased by 4% year-on-year to US$221.7m, with sales coming in 5% up at $934.7m. Net profit for the quarter rose by 11% to $143.2m.

For the first half of its fiscal year, however, Brown-Forman's operating profit was 2% down on the corresponding period a year ago, at $362.3m, despite a 6% lift in sales, which reached $1.72bn. Net profit for the six-month period was up by 3% to $231.4m.

The company's Jack Daniel's portfolio of whiskies delivered a rise in sales in the mid-single digits for the first half of the fiscal year, primarily reflecting shipment growth. Gains in the US, Eastern Europe, Australia, and Latin America were partially offset by declines in some Western European markets, including Germany, the UK, and Spain, Brown-Forman noted.

Jack Daniel's & Cola, the company's RTD offering, saw sales in the six-month period rise in the mid-single digits, as double-digit depletion gains in Germany partially offset losses in Australia, where the company has suffered since the introduction of higher excise taxes on RTDs in April.

Southern Comfort sales, meanwhile, slid by low single digits on a reported basis and in the mid-single digits on a constant currency basis during the half, as depletion trends showed "modest improvement" during the second quarter, particularly in the US.

"We are pleased with our results, particularly in the second quarter where we saw improvement during a challenging economic environment," said company CEO, Paul Varga. "We believe our first half performance is a testimony to the stability of our company, the strength and resiliency of our brands and people, and the quality of our cash flows and balance sheet."

In August, Brown-Forman posted a 7% slide in net profit for its first quarter, coming in at $95m. Operating profit for the three months to the end of June also fell, by 10% to US$155m. Sales, however, were up by 7% to $790m. The company blamed a lack of fit and healthy agave plants for the net profit decrease.

Looking ahead, Brown-Forman said it now expects its fiscal 2009 full-year earnings per share to come in between $3.00 and $3.20, due in part to an estimated $0.12 per share net gain on the expected sale of Italian wine brands Bolla and Fontana Candida, which was announced earlier this week. This would represent a rise of between 6% and 13% on prior-year EPS of $2.84.

Separately, the company also said this week that it plans to repurchase up to $250m of its outstanding class A and class B common shares over the next 12 months.