Sales of aged whiskey fell in the past quarter at the distiller MGP Ingredients —pinching its profit and sending the stock down 26% on Wednesday. Historically a contract distiller for big-name spirits outfits like Diageo, MGP decided to bet on whiskey’s popularity by building up its own aged inventory.
The Atchison, Kan.-based company has been telling investors that the scarcity of aged whiskey would mean that MGP could triple its investment in inventory that it set aside to age.
”Sales of aged whiskey have lagged our expectations,” CEO Gus Griffin said in earnings release for the quarter ended in June. “We believe there is some possibility we might have difficulty completing transactions for all of our projected sales of aged whiskey by the close of the year.”
Total sales rose 2.5% in the period, to $91 million, and earnings per share edged up to 46 cents from the year-earlier 44 cents. But the increase in net income resulted from lower taxes. Operating income was down 2%, and per-share earnings missed the 52 cents expected by the consensus of analysts polled by FactSet.
Even though its sales of aged whiskey trail those of last year, MGP said that the whiskey industry remains robust. For the year, the company’s sales of newly distilled liquor are up in the low single digits, Griffin said.
Just two analysts asked questions on the ensuing conference call, and they sounded annoyed. “You were very confident that the aged sales would enable you to get to the guidance,” said SunTrust Robinson Humphrey’s William Chappell, who came into the quarter’s earnings announcement with a Buy recommendation on the stock. “And clearly the stock today tells you people don’t believe that you can actually sell the product.”
In response, Griffin said his company was getting the price it wanted for the stuff—three-times cost—but not in the volumes it had hoped. Some customers were having trouble raising funds to make large purchases, he said, while others were waiting to see whether MGP would drop its price.
“People may be pushing back as a negotiating ploy,” he surmised, then wondered whether MGP’s public discussions of its extensive inventory might have worked against it. “There’s certainly a learning curve here,” Griffin acknowledged.