April 6, 2017 / 12:17 PM / a year ago

UPDATE 3-Corona maker Constellation gives 'premium' profit forecast

* Forecasts FY18 adj. profit of $7.70-$8.00/shr vs. est. $7.51/shr

* Reports Q4 sales of $1.63 bln vs. est. $1.59 bln

* Posts Q4 profit of $1.48/shr vs. est. $1.36/shr

* Shares hit record high at $175.36 (Adds details from conference call)

By Gayathree Ganesan

April 6 (Reuters) - Corona and Modelo brewer Constellation Brands Inc gave a strong profit forecast for the current fiscal year, buoyed by its success of focusing on premium beers and spirits.

Shares of the company, which also reported higher-than-expected fourth-quarter profit and sales, jumped nearly 9 percent to a record high on Thursday.

The company has made acquisitions in the last two years to enter the craft liquor market as consumers increasingly prefer premium and craft liquor.

Constellation’s beer sales, which account for more than half of total sales, rose 11 percent in the quarter ended Feb. 28, boosted by higher volumes, better pricing and increased demand for its Ballast Point craft beer.

The positioning of Ballast Point as a premium brand is exactly what both our wholesalers and retailers are looking for, Constellation Chief Executive Robert Sands said on a call. The company acquired Sculpin IPA’s Ballast Point for $1 billion in November 2015.

Constellation, which also makes Robert Mondavi wine and Svedka Vodka, forecast adjusted earnings of $7.70-$8.00 per share for the fiscal year ending February.

Analysts on average estimate earnings of $7.51 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The company said it expects net sales to rise about 4-6 percent in fiscal 2018.

Constellation also estimated net sales of beer to rise 9-11 percent in 2018.

“We think there have been some concerns around the beer growth slowing in FY18... but the high-single-digit to low-double-digit top-line growth guidance should alleviate some of those concerns,” J.P. Morgan analyst Andrea Teixeira said in a client note.

Constellation, however, has faced investor skittishness in the last few quarters due to potential tax changes on U.S. imports by President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans.

The company, which makes most of its beer in Mexico, also said its Hispanic consumer confidence is improving. With Trump’s inability to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, company executives said there was a lot of uncertainty around the new administration’s plans to reform taxes.

Constellation reported adjusted profit of $1.48 per share in the fourth quarter, ahead of analysts’ average estimate of $1.36 per share.

The Victor, New York-based company’s net sales rose 5.5 percent to $1.63 billion, beating the average analyst estimate of $1.59 billion. (Reporting by Gayathree Ganesan in Bengaluru; Editing by Martina D’Couto)

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