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Wine shortage? Doesn’t matter. Liquor beats wine as an investment
Posted by: Charles Sizemore (IP Logged)
Date: November 5, 2013 05:23PM

A wine shortage? Say it ain’t so.

Alas, one might be upon us. Production has been falling since 2005, even while demand has held steady. The result has been a widening gap between supply and demand that gave us a shortfall of about 300 million cases last year, according to Morgan Stanley.

The culprits? Rising demand from the U.S. and China and falling production in France, Italy and Spain, which collectively account for just under half of all world production, according to the Wine Institute. (Interestingly, though it is the No. 3 producer, Spain has more acreage “under vine” than any other country in the world. It appears France and Italy enjoy higher yields on their grape vines.)

Writing for Reuters, Felix Salmon takes issue with some of Morgan Stanley’s numbers and notes that strong production in 2013 has alleviated any immediate risk of a shortage. Based on my own anecdotal observations about the retail price of wine (I’ve been known to buy the occasional bottle), I’m inclined to agree with Mr. Salmon.

But whether or not we see a shortage in the years ahead, I do expect demand to be stronger than ever for one major reason: growth in Chinese wine consumption.

Chinese consumption has doubled twice in the past five years. By 2016, China is expected to be the biggest consumer of wine in the world, out-drinking even the United States and France.

So as investors, how can we profit from this trend?

Wine Stocks Few and Far Between

Sadly … outside of opening a vineyard in China, your options are fairly limited.

Publicly traded vineyards are rare and tend to be low-margin businesses. And outside of the ultra-high-end vineyards such as Chateau Lafite Rothschild (which is wildly popular as a status symbol among China’s elite), most wines lack the brand recognition of beer and spirit brands.

I wrote about this earlier this year. Discussing the struggles of Constellation Brands (STZ), the largest publicly traded winery, I said:

Quote:
“Outside of, say, Coca-Cola (KO), beer and spirits are probably the most recognizable and valuable brand names in existence. Not surprisingly, premium beer and spirits businesses tend to enjoy high margins and high returns on equity relative to their peers.

Wine is a different story. The attractiveness of a given vineyard varies from year to year, and few have national or international brand awareness. Wine connoisseurs know their favorite vintages, but there is little brand loyalty at the mass-market level. For a company of Constellation’s size, wine is a much harder business to operate.”

Think about it. Off the top of your head, how many beer brands can you name? A dozen or more without even having to strain? Now … how many wine labels can you name?

In the Morgan Stanley report that Salmon picks apart, the authors recommend Treasury Wine Estates(TSRYY), an Australian winery. The shares are a little rich for my liking, trading hands at 70 times trailing earnings and 18 times expected 2014 earnings, though they do yield a respectable 3% in dividends.

Me? I prefer to avoid wine stocks altogether and focus instead on spirits.

Go With Booze Instead, Buy Diageo

I’ve recommended Diageo (DEO) off and on for years, and I still consider it one of my favorite long-term holdings.

Diageo is the world’s largest purveyor of spirits, and its brands include Johnnie Walker, Crown Royal, Smirnoff and scores more.

Diageo’s branding helps it to generate returns on capital that are consistently three times as high as those of Constellation Brands (see chart). Diageo also has grown its top-line sales by nearly half since 2008 — and the past five years have been rather challenging for most consumer-related businesses.



Much of this growth has been due to high demand from emerging markets, which already constitute 42% of Diageo’s sales and continue to take a bigger slice every year.

As incomes continue to rise in China, India, Latin America and other brand-conscious emerging markets, so do standards of taste. Ordering a premium spirit or offering a bottle as a gift is a sign that you have “made it” in life. This is a long-term macro theme with decades left to run.

I also should add that Diageo is an International Dividend Achiever, meaning the company has raised its dividend for a minimum of five consecutive years. I expect Diageo to continue raising its dividend at a nice clip in the years ahead. DEO currently yields 2.7%.

I won’t say this about too many companies, but Diageo stock is something you can buy and forget. I recommend the stock for your core, long-term portfolio — and I also recommend you take the time to enjoy a bottle of Black Label, preferable with full-bodied cigar.

And if Diageo performs as I expect, use your dividend proceeds to upgrade to a bottle of Blue Label.



Stocks Discussed: STZ, DEO, KO,
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