Fortune Brands ( FO) posted strong fourth-quarter numbers, citing gains in its golf and liquor brands. But the company guided lower for the first quarter, saying the slowdown in the housing market will hit results at its home and hardware properties.

The Deerfield, Ill., conglomerate made $252 million, or $1.62 a share, for the quarter ended Dec. 31, up from the year-ago $176 million, or $1.17 a share. Excluding a tax benefit and other one-time items, earnings rose to $1.39 from $1.22 a year ago. Sales rose 16% from a year ago to $2.28 billion.

Analysts were looking for a $1.35-a-share profit on sales of $2.24 billion.

"The strong fourth-quarter performance of brands like Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, Courvoisier, Clos du Bois, Titleist and FootJoy helped offset the increasing impact of the U.S. housing market on our home products brands," said CEO Norm Wesley. "Even though comparable sales for our home and hardware brands were down at a mid-single-digit rate in the quarter, our faucet, cabinetry and security brands performed well and continued to gain share. We faced challenging marketplace conditions for our home products brands, but our proactive cost controls helped limit the adverse impact on margins in Home & Hardware to about one-half percent on an underlying basis."

The company said it's raising prices to offset rises in raw material costs, but it doesn't expect to bridge that gap in the first quarter.

"For the first quarter, we expect diluted earnings per share before charges/gains for Fortune Brands may be down in the range of 20%, principally as a result of the challenging home products market, difficult comparisons in Home & Hardware and the impact of commodities costs," Wesley concluded.

Analysts were looking for a first-quarter profit of $1.07 a share, up from $1.06 a year earlier, according to Thomson Financial.

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