For the third quarter, the company reported flat net sales, but underlying growth of 7%, with reported operating income decreasing 9% and increasing 7% on an underlying basis. As the company noted last quarter, the decline in the reported growth rate in net sales in the third quarter was the result of the expected downward rebalancing of distributor inventories, which had built in the second quarter from advanced buying ahead of anticipated price increases in several markets, the timing of promotional activities, and pipeline fill associated with product innovations. A stronger U.S. dollar and the impact of the sale of the Hopland-based wine business also lowered the reported net sales growth rate for the quarter year-over-year.
Brown-Forman’s growth in year-to-date underlying net sales continued to be driven by broad-based geographic gains outside the U.S., as strong underlying growth in net sales trends continued in developed and emerging international markets. Notable double-digit growth was recorded in several markets, including Germany, Mexico, Russia, France, Brazil, Turkey and Canada. Declines in net sales performance occurred in China, Greece, Ireland, and Spain. Australia sales declined as a result of prior year advanced buy-in ahead of anticipated price increases. In the U.S. net sales growth was fueled by the introduction of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, while Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey increased by low single digits.
Brown-Forman’s Jack Daniel’s trademark continued to grow year-to-date depletions 3 globally at a double-digit rate, and as the number one American whiskey, we believe it is well positioned to continue benefiting from the recent resurgent trends in the U.S. for this category. Innovation and line extensions also continued to be a source of growth for the company, with the most recent example being the very successful launch of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey. This brand extension already has taken a leadership position in the flavored whiskey category, and according to Nielsen, was the #1 new spirits product in 2011. In the super-premium whiskey category, Gentleman Jack, Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, and Woodford Reserve registered solid double-digit depletion gains for the quarter. In addition, Finlandia improved its performance, growing depletions in the high double digits for the quarter. The company continues to anticipate underlying net sales growth for the full fiscal year in the high single digits.
Reported gross profit for the quarter declined 3%, while underlying gross profit grew 6%. Higher input and fuel costs affected both underlying and reported gross profit trends in the quarter. In addition, a net change in distributor inventory levels, a reduction in gross profit associated with the sale of Hopland-based wine brands, and foreign exchange contributed to the reduction in reported gross profit in the quarter. Growth in underlying operating expense 4 for the third quarter resulted from higher advertising investments behind numerous brands in various markets and in support of brand innovations launched earlier in the year. In addition, operating expense included SG&A increases from salary inflation adjustments and related expenses. Further moderation in growth of operating expense is expected to continue in the fourth fiscal quarter. The company continues to expect high single-digit underlying operating income growth.During the third quarter, Brown-Forman paid a regular quarterly cash dividend of $0.35 per share on Class A and Class B common stock. On January 24, 2012, Brown-Forman’s Board of Directors approved a regular quarterly cash dividend of $0.35 per share on Class A and Class B common stock. Stockholders of record on March 5, 2012 will receive the cash dividend on April 2, 2012. Brown-Forman has paid regular quarterly cash dividends for 66 consecutive years and increased them for the last 28 years. The company produced what it believes to be an industry-leading return on invested capital 5 of 21%. Full-Year Guidance Update Underlying results for the full fiscal year are expected to be in line with year-to-date levels, with high-single digit growth expected in net sales and operating income. The company confirmed and narrowed its full-year earnings guidance to a range of $3.50 to $3.65 per diluted share.