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Fortune Brands Fourth-Quarter Profits Outpace Expectations

Fortune Brands reported better-than-expected quarterly profit on Friday as strong sales of such spirits as Jim Beam bourbon and Courvoisier cognac overshadowed weakness in the company's home products unit.

Net income for the fourth quarter was $251.8 million, or $1.62 a share, compared with $175.9 million, or $1.17 a share, a year ago.

The latest quarter was helped by a one-time tax benefit of 23 cents a share, which was offset partially by restructuring charges of 8 cents a share. Excluding special items, Fortune earned $1.39 a share.

Analysts on average were expecting $1.35 a share, excluding items, according to Thomson Financial.

Fortune, which also sells golf equipment and kitchen cabinets, said total net sales rose 16% to $2.28 billion from $1.96 billion a year ago.

Comparable sales for the company's home and hardware brands fell at a mid-single-digit rate in the quarter.

Fortune became one of the world's top spirits companies in 2005 with its purchase of more than 20 spirits brands from Allied Domecq. Spirits and wine sales rose to $856.7 million from $629 million last year.

"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 Chairman and Chief Executive Norm Wesley, in a statement.

The company said in October that a softening housing market would hurt sales through the first half of 2007 of its home brands, which include Simonton windows and MasterBrand cabinets.

Fortune, based in Deerfield, Illinois, expects first-quarter earnings before special items to be down about 20%, due to these trends and higher commodities
costs.

For the full year, Fortune expects earnings before items to be in the range of down mid-single digits to up low-single digits.

Analysts on average were expecting $1.07 a share for the first quarter and $5.54 a share for fiscal 2007.