Molson Coors Fourth-Quarter Profits Rise, Topping Estimates

Molson Coors Brewing, one of the world's biggest brewers, said Thursday that its fourth-quarter profit soared on increased sales volume, a lower tax rate and cost savings.

Net income for the three months ended Dec. 31 rose to $99.2 million, or $1.14 a share, from $22.4 million, or 26 cents a share, a year ago. Excluding special items, income from continuing operations was $108.4 million, or $1.24 a share, versus $53.9 million, or 63 cents a share.

The company benefited from an extra week in the period.

Net sales after excise tax payments rose to $1.53 billion from $1.38 billion in the prior-year period. Sales volume grew 5.2% to 10.9 million barrels.

The results outpaced analyst estimates and came amid increased attention in the sector that was fuel by speculation that rival Anheuser-Busch might be in early-stage merger talks with Belgian brewer InBev.

According to Thomson Financial, analysts were looking for a profit of 94 cents a share on net sales of $1.42 billion. Those earnings estimates typically exclude special items.

"We consider the fourth-quarter the most persuasive indicator yet that the Molson merger is a value-creator," said Stifel Nicolaus analyst Mark Swartzberg, in a research note. Swartzberg cited an expansion in Molson's operating margin and higher revenue as factors in his opinion.

Molson Coors said it saw about $33 million in acquisition and other cost savings related to the 2005 combination of Molson and Adolph Coors that created the company.