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BEAM Inc (BEAM), Brown-Forman Corporation (BF.B), Diageo plc (ADR) (DEO): If You Want to Make the Most Money, Buy the Best Liquor

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Beam Inc. NYSE:BEAMAfter a difficult day or to celebrate success, when you’re a little bit down or even feeling your best, when the economy’s booming or bad times are looming, there’s one kind of product we’re sure to be consuming: alcohol! Can anyone think of any other substance consumed on such a widespread basis for such a wide variety of situations as alcohol? Can anyone think of a better way to find profits than within such a category? The real beauty of the alcohol industry is that it tends to grow when times are good, when times are bad, and even when times are just plain boring.

An industry with more brands than businesses

When the average person walks through a store specializing in the sale of alcoholic beverages, it probably never occurs to them that a very large portion of the brands on display are produced by a relatively small handful of businesses. The beauty of this situation for investors is that it makes it easier to isolate the best investment opportunities within such a massive market by comparing only a few businesses.

Considering the structure and nature of the industry and its customers, a good starting point for identifying potential investments is to simply go to the local beverage store and ask the manager to list his top selling brands for you, or simply sit down and write out a list of the brands that come to your mind and then go online and find the companies that own those brands.

I went through this exercise and came up with only three businesses that were responsible for producing all of the brand names on the rather long list I wrote down: BEAM Inc (NYSE:BEAM), Brown-Forman Corporation (NYSE:BF.B) and Diageo plc (ADR) (NYSE:DEO).

Valuation separates the good from the better

BEAM Inc (NYSE:BEAM) offers its namesake brand of bourbon, Jim Beam, along with a long list of other well-known brands. The company’s history dates back over 200 years to 1795 when Jacob Beam sold his first barrel of whiskey in Kentucky and laid the first brick in the foundation of the $10.4 billion business it is today.

Even with its storied and successful history, investing is still about buying assets below fair market value. In the case of BEAM Inc (NYSE:BEAM), based upon consensus analysts’ earnings estimates for 2013 and 2014, the business is trading at P/E multiples of 24.67 and 22.29, respectively, with a five year projected earnings growth rate of 10.9% per year. With a price to cash flow multiple of 20.1, this appears to be a very good business that is currently valued at a very high price.

Brown-Forman Corporation (NYSE:BF.B)’s flagship brand is Jack Daniels, but it has an extensive portfolio of brand names, including Canadian Mist and Southern Comfort, that are recognized by consumers around the world. If for no other reason, the Jack Daniels brand and the customer loyalty it enjoys make this business worth a serious look and create enormous value in the company. While the price to earnings growth multiple sits at 26, based upon the consensus 2014 earnings and a five year projected growth rate of 12.2%, the company has achieved superb returns on equity, assets and capital over the past five years, averaging 25.8%, 13.8% and 17.8% respectively, proving that management knows how to operate the business in a very efficient manner. Considering the iconic brands held by this company, the strong valuation is, in all likelihood, justified; but, at around 24 times cash flow, it is not an inexpensive stock

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