Sam Adams Earnings Running Dry

I was lucky enough to enjoy a can of Heady Topper this weekend. Beer enthusiasts, wipe that drool from your chin. This insanely popular, imperial India Pale Ale, rated the number one beer in the world by Beer Advocate, is notoriously difficult to get your hands on.

HeadyTOpperBrewed by The Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury, Vermont, it is sold at a limited number of shops and restaurants, all in Vermont. Consumers have been known to research delivery times and wait in line for hours at local shops to buy a rationed serving.

It’s no secret that craft brews are booming. Six packs of beers such as citrus-hoppy Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA and chocolaty Founders Breakfast Stout have been slowly finding a niche on beer shelves, elbowing their way into the watery ranks of Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Michelob Ultra (it’s a lite). The Brewers’ Association estimates that two new craft breweries are popping up every day.

The puzzle is why the tornado of craft beer popularity took so long to eat into industry stalwart Boston Beer Company’s earnings. You know Boston Beer by is flagship brand, Sam Adams, which has helped lead the charge of the craft beer revival in the United States starting in 1984. Boston Beer now lives in a beer brewer netherworld, too big to be a craft brewer, but dwarfed by the big boys.  

It’s beer occupies a similar netherworld.  While Boston Beer’s brews are more flavorful than the mega-brand beers, they pale by comparison with the wares of relative newcomers such as Dogfish Head, Stone Brewing and Lagunitas Brewing, to name but a few.

So short sellers have been circling Boston Beer Company (NYSE: SAM) stock for years on the theory that craft brews would sap demand for its beer. In fact, a bright analyst pitched me the idea way back in 2011. And despite his thesis being correct, the stock has more than tripled from its 2011 level and even now, after bad earnings, is still up 76% from that level.

A study of Sam’s numbers and stock chart provides a glimpse into the head-banging frustration many short sellers experience and illustrate how difficult it is to make money shorting stocks.

Despite the huge popularity of microbrews and their success in taking shelf space from more mainstream competitors, Sam Adams grew earnings at an accelerating rate up until 2015. That year earnings grew 27% and the stock hit a high of $320. This was partly due to the company’s introduction its own craft beers and by retailers expanding shelf space for the category.

In 2015 when the rate of earnings growth slowed short-sellers enjoyed some profits but the trading was tricky. If you had been smart enough to sell Sam’s stock at the very top in January you would have made 35% by mid-2015. Yet from that low point the stock rallied 24% back up to where it was just after the company cut estimates for the March 2015 quarter.

Last week, more than one year later, the company finally announced its first decline in earnings. Numbers for the recent March quarter were spectacularly bad. Earnings of $.53 missed estimates by 44% and were down 47% from last March. Management predicts earnings for the year will be down 8%. The stock fell 8% and is down roughly 50% from its peak.

I specialized in shorting stocks for over 25 years. The Sam Adam’s story is a typical short scenario where the entrenched industry player is displaced by young and nimble competitors. It’s also typical in the level of difficulty most short sellers encounter when timing a short sale.

Being right on the fundamentals is only the first step. The more critical step is getting the timing right.

As I pour over stocks to find great buys for subscribers I keep a running list of short candidates. I continually monitor them and plan to issue alerts as they ripen for potential short sales.  

Selling short is a risky business so I don’t advocate it for all subscribers. Investors with high risk tolerance may be interested in these ideas. However, all subscribers will be able to benefit from these short alerts by avoiding these stocks or avoiding future losses by selling them.


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